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Series of court cases question safety of guardrail design

Guardrails are a common and oftentimes expected sight along roadways all over the nation. Intended to prevent vehicles from exiting the freeway and landing in potentially dangerous areas, these devices are also at the center of several lawsuits that claim one particular design, the ET-Plus system built by Trinity Industries Inc, may be actually putting motorists' lives in danger.

As the complaints explain, the guardrails are supposed to crumple when struck, absorbing a vehicle's impact and reducing injury to the vehicle's occupants. But changes made to the guardrail's design around 2005 decreased the guardrail's dimensions, making them more likely to fail in a crash. According to several complaints, the changes cause the guardrails to lock up when struck, allowing the guardrail to pierce through the vehicle, oftentimes severely injuring occupants inside the vehicle.

Trinity has long insisted that its guardrail design is safe, pointing to passing scores during crash tests. This claim was affirmed recently during four crash tests conducted by the Federal Highway Administration.

But plaintiffs and experts in the claims against Trinity are concerned that these four test results may not be accurate, pointing to the fact that the guardrails used in the tests had slightly bigger dimensions than those in question in the lawsuits. According to two industry professionals, "even minor increases in dimensions may improve performance" thereby skewing results that may fail to "fully address the safety concerns."

As those of our Lawrenceburg readers who are following the case will tell you, getting accurate results from these crash tests will be incredibly important because they will determine whether or not accident victims should get compensation for negligence on the manufacturer's part. For many victims, getting compensation will mean the difference between getting a sense of justice from the lawsuit and not.

Source: The Claims Journal, "Trinity Guardrail System Passes First Mandated Crash Tests," Patrick G. Lee, Feb. 11, 2015

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