By Kyle Roby, attorney
English, Lucas, Priest and Owsley, LLP
Metal guardrails run alongside many highways, particularly those that hug a steep embankment. They’re designed to protect those in a car if it careens off the highway. In some cases, though, guardrails are making accidents much more deadly than they should be.
A recent accident here in Bowling Green could have possibly had a different outcome if a guardrail was not involved. A car veered off of Morgantown Road and hit the support wires of a utility pole and the guardrail. The guardrail penetrated the car and hit the driver. She was killed. Two others were hospitalized with serious injuries, and two more were treated locally for less severe injuries.
In another accident on Natcher Parkway, a dump truck ran a Kia compact car into a guard rail and nearly crushed it, trapping those in the car between the truck and the guardrail. The driver and passenger in the Kia were killed. The dump truck driver admitted he was distracted and did not see the small car.
Guardrails are receiving new focus nationally due to problems with the construction of the railings. In some cases, guardrails are coming apart and turning into spears that pierce vehicles, rather than a guiding arm that keeps them from veering off a dangerous hill.
Trinity, a company that makes guardrails, was hit with a whistleblower lawsuit and subsequent $663 million verdict in Texas in 2015 for changing the design of its guardrails in 2005 but failing to notify federal authorities, which is required, reports The New York Times. What’s really astounding about the case is that the federal government elected not to participate as a plaintiff in the lawsuit and the entire case was pursued by one man, Josh Harman. He discovered in 2011 that the design had been changed, and that Trinity had not gotten proper approval to change it. Harman worked for a competitor of Trinity.
While Harman waged his battled against the company, the Federal Highway Administration defended Trinity – even after learning the company had falsely claimed it had gotten approval for the design changes.
Following the verdict, several states banned Trinity guardrails. News accounts have indicated the U.S. Department of Justice is pursuing a criminal investigation into Trinity’s dealings with the highway administration. Trinity is also being sued by motorists and their families who were injured by the guardrails.
The Commonwealth of Virginia announced it was doing its own safety tests, believing the federal safety tests to be inadequate. Trinity fired back that if they’re going to do testing only on Trinity guardrails, it is unfair to the company, and the tests should be done on all guardrails.
Trinity has long stated it did nothing wrong and has continued to argue against the lawsuit, the verdict and any accusations of wrongdoing.
Motorists expect the government to be watching after their best interests on the highways. But as we’ve seen time and again, truckers are not always held to the standard they should be – and equipment that is critical for highway safety can be flawed. If you’ve been in an accident and a guardrail played a part, you should contact an attorney right away. We may be able to help you. Contact me, attorney Kyle Roby, at (270) 781-6500 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
New federal truck rules require electronic logs for drivers, January 21, 2016
Common Causes of Truck Wrecks in Kentucky and Tennessee, September 25, 2015