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.
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."
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.
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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