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Personal Injury Lawsuits Allege Defective Guardrails

Posted on: October 15, 2014

A series of recent lawsuits are alleging that Trinity Industries, a major manufacturer of guardrails in the United States, has produced tens of thousands of defective guardrails. Instead of protecting drivers like they are supposed to, these guardrails can and have caused serious personal injuries, including death.

The Facts

In 2010, Ervin Pinckney was driving his truck near Bowie, Maryland, when he crashed head-on into the end of a highway guardrail. Although the guardrail should have crumpled to slow down his vehicle, it came up through the floor of his truck like a spear instead, nearly cutting his head off. Although Pinckney survived the car accident without serious injury, many others have not been as lucky.

The defect allegedly began in 2005, when Trinity Industries changed the width of the steel channel behind the head of the guardrail from five inches to four. Although this is a seemingly minor change, it can prevent the guardrail from crumpling like it is designed to. Instead, the guardrail can become jammed and act like a spear.

The New York Times reports that the defect has been linked to at least five deaths and at least 14 accidents nationwide. Some states, such as Nevada, Massachusetts, and Missouri have issued a ban on new construction of the specific model of guardrail, called the ET-Plus.

Liability for Defective Products in Maryland

Most of the lawsuits against Trinity Industries, such as this lawsuit in Florida, have proceeded under theories of negligence and strict products liability.

Although the law differs from state to state, in Maryland, a successful negligence lawsuit must prove that the manufacturer of a product failed to do what a reasonably prudent manufacturer would have done. Manufacturers owe a duty to be reasonable in designing, making, and inspecting their products. Failure to act in a reasonable manner can serve as a basis for liability in a personal injury lawsuit.

Often, it is easier for plaintiffs to bring a lawsuit in strict liability than it is to prove negligence. To bring a successful strict liability lawsuit in Maryland, the plaintiff must establish four elements:

  1.     1. The product was defective at the time it left the control of the seller or manufacturer.
  2.     2. The product was unreasonably dangerous.
  3.     3. The defect in the product was the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.
  4.     4. The product reached the plaintiff without a substantial change in its condition.

Like many products liability lawsuits, the personal injury lawsuits that have been filed against Trinity Industries are successful will likely depend on the second element above: whether the guardrails are unreasonably dangerous. An experienced products liability lawyer can help victims who are injured by defective products by gathering evidence such as safety test records by the manufacturer, inspection reports, and information from other similar accidents.