Highway guardrails pose injury risk, says whistleblower

Published On: August 22nd, 2015

Guardrails help people on the road by preventing cars from careening off roads and into nearby obstacles. But recent, quiet changes to the way some companies make guardrails may be proving deadly, at least according to one whistleblower.

Trinity Industries, Inc. is currently facing a lawsuit that alleges between 2002 and 2005 the company changed the way it made guardrails without notifying federal authorities. This has led guardrails to act more like "shivs" than as shock absorbers, according to the lawsuit. Specifically, the "ET-Plus" terminals may have put problems on approximately 600,000 guardrails across the nation.

Companies that make guardrails approved by the Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration can receive reimbursements

The lawsuit was brought by the owner of a competitor. However, the plaintiff in the lawsuit is not the only one asking questions about guardrail safety. State highway officials in several states are reviewing safety performance of the ET-Plus guardrails. A product-safety advocacy group, Safety Research & Strategies, Inc., has also filed a separate suit asking for information on the performance of the guardrails in question.

Trinity has told Bloomberg news that the lawsuit contains "false and malicious statements" and that the arguments against the company are "failing completely."

Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that the company changed five manufacturing items in its guardrail without notifying federal authorities. The plaintiff alleges that the changes lowered production costs and made it more necessary for guardrails to be replaced, rather than fixed, in the event of an accident. Trinity has argued that any changes are "cosmetic" and that they did not need to be reported because they did not affect performance.

The case is set for trial in July.

Guardrail safety

While guardrails serve as a valuable safety measure, they are not without risk. Historically, guardrails could break and spear cars after impact. Guardrails with buried ends can pose as a rollover risk. In 1989, one company introduced guardrails that absorbed energy as it pressed into the rail behind it. The updated guardrail also flattened away from the car after impact, greatly reducing the risk of a puncture.

The lawsuit alleges that the changes made in the mid-2000s negates this safety benefit.

Trinity is also facing nine separate personal injury and wrongful death suits related to its guardrails. Trinity is one of the largest producers of guardrails in the country.

In an accident?

People severely injured in a car accident face many obstacles. Of primary importance is getting well. For people who have been injured because of a faulty guardrail, auto defect or the negligence of another driver, there may be legal help available to pay for medical expenses and lost wages. People injured in an accident should contact an experienced personal injury attorney to discuss their situation.