Joshua Harman, a safety research expert based in Virginia, has filed lawsuit against Trinity Highway Products LLC, a Texas-based company that manufactures US guardrail systems used across the US. He alleges that the company quietly made design changes to the energy absorbing end terminal that is installed at the end of a guardrail, usually marked with yellow and black stripes.
This system is designed to give way when hit to absorb energy during a crash. However, Harman alleges that the firm changed the dimensions of the ET-Plus End Terminal without telling the federal government. Rather than acting like an absorber, the terminal can actually lock up and actually behave more like a shiv. This can cause the guardrail to essentially spear the vehicle, injuring or killing the occupants of the car.
Harman first became interested in the suit when he saw the aftermath of a crash in North Carolina, where a man in a Nissan Sentra slammed into a guardrail at 80 MPH. The guardrail speared his door and slammed the man into the back seat.
After that accident, Harman saw the debris on the interstate, and saw how the jagged end of the guardrail was bent towards the highway.
He then went to the junkyard where the car was towed. He found 10 feet of the guardrail had skewered the car, and found the back seat bloody where the driver had been slammed into.
The lawsuit is going to go before a jury next month.
At this point, the Trinity ET Plus has met all federal requirements since it was released in 2000. The company says the firm has made several small cosmetic changes that do not affect performance.
If Harman prevails, the company could be forced to pay millions in fines and make design changes to the end terminal.