The Florida Department of Transportation found that more than 1-in-4 Trinity ET-Plus guardrails are located in 5 South Florida counties: Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River, and Broward counties. Earlier this year, a federal jury found that Trinity Industries defrauded the federal government of $175 million when it secretly changed the design of the guardrail end-terminal without telling authorities and without conducting any safety testing.
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.
Why the change? Money. Trinity said it saved about $2.00 per end terminal, resulting in $50,000 in savings per year.
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.
A study by the University of Alabama-Birmingham in conjunction with The Safety Institute and the Missouri Highway and Transportation Commission found the ET-Plus performed more poorly than other guardrail end terminals. The UAB study looked at 8 years of data in Missouri and Ohio involving five different end terminal designs. The study concluded that the Trinity ET-Plus “placed motorists at a higher risk of both serious injury and death relative to its predecessor, the ET-2000.”
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.
- One in four of controversial guardrails in state located in South Florida [Shannon Cake at WPTV 5 West Palm Beach]
- Testing Begins on Deadly Guardrail System
- Trinity Industries Tests Potentially Hazardous Guardrail [Aaron M. Kessler at New York Times]
- Virginia Sues Trinity Industries Over Potentially Risky Guardrail [Danielle Ivory and Aaron M. Kessler at New York Times]
- Guardrail Death in Delaware Just Days After State Bans Trinity ET-Plus
- Kent Emison Interviewed for 20/20 Investigation of Defective Guardrails
- Kent Emison Discusses Trinity Guardrail Lawsuits With CBS Affiliate
- Virginia Plans to Remove Guardrails Blamed for Injuries, Deaths [Cindy Galli, Brian Ross, and Lee Ferran at ABC News]
© Copyright 2014 Brett A. Emison
Follow @BrettEmison on Twitter.
Brett Emison is currently a partner at Langdon & Emison, a firm dedicated to helping injured victims across the country from their primary office near Kansas City. Mainly focusing on catastrophic injury and death cases as well as complex mass tort and dangerous drug cases, Mr. Emison often deals with automotive defects, automobile crashes, railroad crossing accidents (train accidents), trucking accidents, dangerous and defective drugs, defective medical devices.