Typically thought of as a safety device, guardrails can prevent a hydroplaning
car from careening over a cliff or keep an out-of-control SUV from sliding
into opposing traffic. In a disturbing trend, however, guardrails appear
to be causing, rather than preventing, serious injuries and tragic fatalities.
Our Panama City car accident law firm is following developing research
into guardrail accidents, particularly whether a redesigned guardrail
terminal is causing serious, even catastrophic accidents.
Researchers Eye Possible Link Between Manufacturing Change and Horrific
Last week, ABC News published a special report focused on the issue of
guardrail safety. The article notes that the Federal Highway Administration
("FHA") plans to study the problem, specifically whether guardrail
terminals (the start/end piece of a rail also called "guardrail heads")
are able to absorb a 62mph head-on impact in real world conditions. Public
and private engineers and highway experts plan to conduct the research
which follows a number of accidents in which a guardrail allegedly pierced
a vehicle and caused victims to lose a limb or die in pain.
The federal study comes on the heels of a project at the University of
Alabama Birmingham, sponsored by the non-profit Safety Institute and the
state of Missouri. Summarized on the Institute's website, the study
found a re-designed terminal commonly used on highways is 1.36 times more
likely to lead to serious injury and 2.86 times more likely to lead to
death than its predecessor. Importantly, the study authors do say further
inquiry is needed. Sean Kane, president of the Safety Institute's
board of directors and a consultant on pending litigation, told ABC: "We
are seeing on-road failures that shouldn't be happening....I have
real concern about leaving them on the highways."
Manufacturer Facing Wrongful Death, Personal Injury, and Government Fraud Charges
Trinity Industries, manufacturer of the terminals, is facing lawsuits by
people who lost a limb in guardrail accidents and families who lost loved
ones in similar collisions. Trinity emphasizes that the redesign, called
the ET-Plus, meets all safety standards. The FHA agrees, but notes even
crash-tested devices can be involved in deadly accidents, with officials
calling for a real world examination.
Plaintiffs in pending civil suits say small modifications to the original
design turned the safety devices into highway hazards. Trinity denies
any impact on performance stemming from the changes. ABC investigators
cite internal emails in which Trinity engineers suggest one modification,
a one-inch reduction in the size of a key metal piece, would save $2 per
end terminal and $50,000 per year. Trinity denies any profit motive in
the re-design. A separate suit via the False Claims Act alleges that making
changes without notifying the government amounted to contracting fraud.
Representing Individuals and Families in Northwest Florida
Individuals and families coping with the aftermath of guardrail accidents
are dealing with a cruel irony - a device that typically saves lives brought
terrible tragedy into their worlds. Civil litigation cannot undo this
tragedy, but it can supply critical monetary compensation and key sense
of justice. Additionally, a civil suit can provide the impetus for change
that prevents others from suffering a similar fate. That change is often
one of the top things our clients say they are hoping for when we first
meet to discuss their story and their goals for our work together.
Whether it is a private suit against a manufacturer or a claim involving
a government-related entity (as might exist if a government agency knew
or should have known a manufacturing change carried undue safety risks),
Attorney Pittman has the experience and knowledge to serve injured individuals
and grieving families following guardrail accidents in the Florida Panhandle.
If you or a loved one has been involved in a guardrail collision or other
accident caused or exacerbated by a device typically intended as a safety
measure, call our Panama City highway collision law firm. We can help.
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