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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.

Trinity - WPTV Report
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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 Email
Internal Trinity E-mail

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.

Trinity - JKE - 20-20
Kent Emison discusses Trinity ET-Plus guardrail failures on ABC’s 20/20 news program

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.

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© Copyright 2014 Brett A. Emison

Follow @BrettEmison on Twitter.

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