July 25, 2016 — The U.S. government is recommending independent third-party tests for roadside safety devices in response to concerns about highway guardrails that lock up and impale oncoming cars in head-on collisions.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) published results of a year-long investigation into the “impact absorbing” ET-Plus guardrail end-terminals made by Trinity Industries.
Investigators faulted the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) for allowing labs to crash-test guardrails despite conflicts of interest.
Out of nine labs authorized by the FHWA to test roadside safety devices, six tested products made by their own employees. The government says an independent third-party should verify crash-test results and make a pass/fail determination.
In April 2015, the government opened a criminal corruption investigation into the relationship between Trinity Industries and the FHWA.
Crash-tests on the ET-Plus in 2005 and 2010 were conducted by the Texas Transportation Institute, which is part of Texas A&M, owns the patent on the ET-Plus, and has been paid millions of dollars in royalties from Trinity, according to the New York Times.
ET-Plus guardrails have been blamed on at least five deaths and dozens of horrific crashes. In several cases, the guardrail pierced the car like a spear and sliced through the driver’s legs or torso.
According to whistleblowers, Trinity changed the design of the ET-Plus in 2005 without telling the government. Those changes shaved a few inches off a key piece of metal, saving Trinity tens of thousands of dollars per year in materials.
Critics say the changes made it more likely to jam up, causing the guardrail to act like a spear instead of deflecting harmlessly away.
The government did not learn about the changes until after hundreds of thousands of ET-Plus guardrails were installed throughout the United States. In October 2014, a jury in Texas found Trinity liable for fraud and ordered the company to pay $663 million.
Just days later, the FHWA asked Trinity to conduct new safety tests. Those tests were conducted in San Antonio by Southwest Research Institute, a former business partner of Trinity that was no longer being paid royalties.
In eight tests, Southwest only conducted head-on crashes — not low-angle (approx. 4.5º) impacts that have been blamed on many of the impalements. In the eighth test, the guardrail buckled and severely dented the driver-side door when the car spun around. In March 2015, Southwest said the ET-Plus passed all of the tests.
Do I have a Guardrail Lawsuit?
The Schmidt Firm, PLLC is currently accepting ET-Plus induced injury cases in all 50 states. If you or somebody you know has been injured by a defective highway guardrail, you should contact our lawyers immediately for a free case consultation. Please use the form below to contact our Product Liability Litigation Group or call toll free 24 hours a day at (866) 920-0753.
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