What’s the Problem?
Trinity Industries faces a growing number of product liability lawsuits over deaths and leg amputations caused by highway guardrail accidents, specifically those involving its ET-Plus end terminal. Plaintiffs allege that design modifications were made to the original guardrail, such as a 1 inch reduction in a metal piece from 5 to 4 inches. Victims claim this small change turned the guardrails into deadly roadside hazards.
Dean Sicking, inventor of the original ET-Plus guardrail, told ABC News that Trinity altered the system in 2005 without his knowledge. The original guardrails are believed to have saved hundreds of lives since being introduced in 1999. “I was not involved in that change, and never really understood why they did it,” Sicking told ABC News.
An internal email obtained by ABC News revealed that Trinity engineers found that by leaving off 1 inch in a critical piece of metal, the company could save about $2 per terminal, around $50,000 a year. Trinity maintains that the changes were cosmetic and did not require new approvals because guardrail performance was not affected. The company claims that it did not sell the redesigned end terminal until crash testing was completed in 2005, after the FHWA issued its letter of acceptance. FHWA officials maintain they were not aware of the ET-Plus design change until after a whistleblower lawsuit was filed in 2012.
Highway Guardrail Accidents
- A 39-year-old Tennessee mother died from severe organ damage and bleeding in 2008 when a Trinity guardrail cut through the front of her SUV and punctured her torso.
- In January 2010, a New York woman lost her right leg after a guardrail penetrated her driver’s side door in an accident.
- Also in 2010, a guardrail in Florida pierced the floorboard of a pickup truck, slicing through the leg of an 18-year-old passenger.
- 2012 – Family’s vehicle careens into a guardrail in NY, punctures the wheel well into the back seat, pinning a 2-year-old boy.
- January 2014 – An accident in North Carolina involving the ET-Plus end terminal left the driver a double amputee. The driver fell asleep, veered off of the interstate and slammed head-on into a guardrail. Instead of the end terminal acting as an energy absorber as it should have, the guardrail sliced through the floorboard into the driver’s seat. The driver’s right leg was severed in the accident, and doctors later had to remove his mangled left leg.
To date, at least 9 injuries and 4 deaths have been linked to Trinity highway guardrails, prompting product liability lawsuits nationwide. At least 8 lawsuits or attorney generals’ complaints were also filed against Trinity, all of which cited the altered ET-Plus end terminal.
Trinity to Halt Guardrail Shipments Over Safety Concerns
Less than a week after Trinity was found guilty of defrauding the federal government, the company announced that it would stop shipping its ET-Plus guardrails until additional safety tests could be completed. “In light of FHWA’s request, the right thing to do is to stop shipping the product until the additional testing has been completed,” said Trinity President Gregg Mitchell.
FHWA Closes Guardrail Crash Test Loophole
The Federal Highway Administration has closed a loophole that allowed guardrail manufacturers to make changes to older products without performing additional crash tests, according to the New York Times. Under the new rules, which were published May 18 and will go into effect next year, if a manufacturer alters the design of an existing roadside device, it must be crash-tested according to the strictest safety measures, even if the product has been deemed safe in the past under older regulations.
Do I Have a Highway Guardrail Lawsuit?
The Product Liability Litigation Group at our law firm is an experienced team of trial lawyers that focus on the representation of plaintiffs in Guardrail Lawsuits. We are handling individual litigation nationwide and currently accepting new injury and death cases in all 50 states.
Free Confidential Case Evaluation: Again, if you or a loved one suffered a serious injury in a guardrail accident, you should contact our law firm immediately. You may be entitled to compensation by filing a lawsuit and our lawyers can help.