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Highway Guardrail Lawsuits Charge Unsafe Design Maiming Drivers

Fabrice N. Vincent
Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann & Bernstein, LLP - San Francisco Office

August 27, 2014

Previously published on August 20, 2014

This summer, automotive and product design safety company, Safety Research & Strategies, filed suit against the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), seeking the public release of documents in the case of United States ex rel. Harman v. Trinity Industries. The whistleblower lawsuit alleges guardrail manufacturer Trinity Industries defrauded the government. The Wall Street Journal reports court records remain inaccessible.

Dallas-based company Trinity Industries manufactures metal guardrails for highways. In 1999, Trinity developed its first version of the ET-Plus guardrail. Beginning in 2005, the company allegedly made design changes, in order to save on manufacturing costs. Without informing the FHWA for approval, which is required by federal law, ABC News reports that Trinity modified the ET-Plus guardrail, decreasing the width and height of the end terminal of the guardrail by one inch. This small change to the guardrail design has had a significant and adverse impact for drivers involved in accidents on our highways.

According to Bloomberg Businessweek, Joshua Harman first filed a claim against Trinity Industries and their defective highway guardrail design after viewing the aftermath of an accident off a North Carolina interstate. Driving 80 miles per hour, Darius Williams lost control of his Nissan Sentra and slammed into the guardrail, leaving him in intensive care.

Harman's lawsuit reportedly alleges that because of the new and smaller guardrail design, a section of the guardrail pierced through the car door. Rather than bending the guardrail end terminal away from the automobile upon impact in an energy-absorbing end terminal design, Trinity's new design of the ET-Plus, according to Harman's lawsuit, results in the guardrail locking up and sometimes spearing the vehicle.

Williams's accident isn't the only case linked to this kind of guardrail failure. Numerous personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits have been filed against Trinity Industries based on the alleged defective design of its guardrails.

"I've got widows who have lost husbands. I've got mothers who have had their children butchered. I've got a Marine that cut both his legs off. It's unacceptable," stated Harman to Q13Fox News, "[The guardrail] will slice through the front bumper, radiator, and frame, crumple zone, go straight through car seats, people, individuals. Just like a hot knife through butter."


The views expressed in this document are solely the views of the author and not Martindale-Hubbell. This document is intended for informational purposes only and is not legal advice or a substitute for consultation with a licensed legal professional in a particular case or circumstance.

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