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Abeln Guardrail



The program agenda will include the following:

  • Overview of the problem associated with Trinity End Terminals
  • Trinity Testing of the End Terminals
  • The UAB Study and Testing being conducted at the direction of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)
  • Considerations for Case Selection

Faculty for the program include:

  • Sean Kane
  • Kent Emison
  • David Kwass
  • Ted Leopold
  • Melanie MacDonald

The program begins at 2:00 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time) and will run through 3:45 p.m.  You can register online here.

What’s the Problem with Trinity ET-Plus Guardrails?

Guardrail end terminals are supposed to absorb the brunt of an impact and turn the rail itself away from the striking vehicle like a ribbon.  However, in 2005, Trinity secretly began to work on modifications to its ET-Plus, which reduced the width of the guide rail/feeder chute from 5-inches to 4-inches (a 20% reduction).  Trinity made these design changes with no notice to the FHWA or any state governments that purchased the ET-Plus.

These critical changes interfered with the proper deformation of the guardrail.  The ET-Plus’s altered design causes the rail to fold back, turning the rail into a spear that will slice right through a car or truck.

If the previous version was safer, then why the changes?  The answer is simple: Money.  An internal Trinity email documented that Trinity could save $2.00 per end terminal by using a 4-inch channel rather than a 5-inch channel.

Trinity Email
Internal Trinity E-mail

Landon & Emison a Leader in Guardrail Litigation

Working on behalf of our guardrail clients, including the family of Brad Abeln, Langdon & Emison has been at the forefront of litigating this defect.  Brad Abeln was killed when another vehicle forced his Ford Bronco into the end of a Trinity guardrail.  Instead of blunting the impact and slowing Brad’s vehicle, the defective end terminal caused the guardrail to pushed through the Ford Bronco and into Brad’s driver’s seat.  Brad was thrown from the vehicle and died at the scene.

An end terminal is designed to absorb energy from a crash by sliding along the metal guardrail, extruding the guardrail as it passes to one side, like a flattened ribbon, away from the vehicle.

But a Clay County lawsuit filed on behalf of Abeln’s four young children alleged that undisclosed changes to the design in 2005 made the end terminal prone to “lock up” and bend the guardrail beam unpredictably.

“When the beam locked up, it contacted the driver’s door and drive the driver’s door into the driver’s seat,” said Lexington, Mo., attorney, Kent Emison, who represents Abeln’s children.

Emison filed his lawsuit in June.  By September, the state of Missouri had stopped installation of ET-Plus systems along the state’s highways.

– The Kansas City Star

The Abeln family was also featured on ABC’s 20/20 news program:

Trinity Guardrail Lawsuits

There have been numerous lawsuits filed across the country against Trinity Industries due to injuries and deaths stemming from the ET-Plus end terminal.  Kent Emison has been selected to co-chair the AAJ sub-group dedicated to the Trinity guardrail defect.  Kent will conduct the sub-group’s initial meeting at the AAJ Winter Convention in February 2015.  As states continue to evaluate the ET-Plus’s safety performance and new information is learned about Trinity’s fraud, we expect more lawsuits will follow.

In October, a Texas jury slapped Trinity with a $175 million judgment for puportedly defrauding the federal government by secretly changing the design specifications in 2005 without notifying the Federal Highway Administration, which reimburses states for guardrails on federal highway projects.

That judgment triples to $525 million under federal law.

– The Kansas City Star

Though much of the focus has been on Trinity’s secretly re-designed 4-inch ET-Plus model, the 5-inch ET-Plus is not necessarily a safer design.  Both the 4-inch and 5-inch version of the ET-Plus have substantial deviations from the original ET-2000 end terminal, which make both versions of the ET-Plus more dangerous than the original design.

One example: in both versions of the ET-Plus, the exit gap – the area through which the flattened guardrail exits the terminal away from the striking vehicle – was narrowed from 2-inches to 1-inch.  Why is this important?  During a collision, a vehicle can push the end terminal down the guardrail and reach a joint where two sections of rail have been joined.  These joints are held together by four 1.5-inch bolts.  In both ET-Plus designs, the 1.5-inch bolts will not feed through the 1-inch exit gap.  The bolts will cause the guardrail to jam inside the end terminal resulting in a catastrophic failure of the system.

Langdon & Emison continues to investigate Trinity guardrail injuries and deaths across the country.  Contact our office for a free evaluation of your case.

© Copyright 2015 Brett A. Emison

Follow @BrettEmison on Twitter.

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