Collisions between vehicles and guardrails are common on California highways. Drivers may collide with guardrails if they lose control of their vehicles, such as while hydroplaning or in a vehicle accident. The purpose of a guardrail is to absorb the impact of an accident, helping a vehicle slow down or lose its velocity. It is also to prevent vehicles from careering into more dangerous locations, such as off a precipice or into oncoming traffic.
Guardrail manufacturers must conduct research to ensure their products comply with reasonable safety standards. One major manufacturer, Trinity Highway Products, markets an “extra measure of safety,” in its ET-Plus products, stating its posts break to allow vehicles to slide along the guardrail. The sliding feature is meant to protect vehicle occupants by reducing the gravitational forces in the collision. The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) approved the product and installed these guardrails on many state highways.
Soon after installation, the ET-Plus guardrails became a subject of controversy. The ET-Plus sliding system poses a serious threat to drivers. Drivers in California and throughout the country suffered serious and fatal injuries after colliding with the Trinity Highway Products guardrails. Instead of the post breaking as advertised, a design flaw in the product causes the end terminal to lock in place.
The malfunction makes the head of the guardrail lock up, allowing a vehicle to pass through the guardrail. Trinity Highway Products failed to disclose to Caltrans and other consumers that the change in guardrail design saved the manufacturer money – a motivation much different than driver safety alone. The manufacturer also failed to disclose that it reduced the width of the ET-Plus guardrail.
In 2015, Trinity Highway Products had to pay a $663 million judgment in a False Claims Act lawsuit that claimed the company defrauded the California government. Caltrans has since agreed not to purchase any more ET-Plus guardrails, but petitioners are arguing for the removal of existing guardrails. So far, however, Caltrans has not agreed to remove the more than 3,000 ET-Plus guardrails from state highways.
A defective guardrail could cost a driver his or her life. Instead of buffering an accident and preventing a vehicle from entering dangerous premises as it should, a defective guardrail could malfunction and cause more harm than it prevents. Guardrail manufacturers are responsible for ensuring the safety of their products. While they do not bear the responsibility to guarantee zero car accident deaths, they do have a duty to reasonably prevent harm through safe, well-tested products.
Producing guardrails with design flaws, manufacturing defects, or marketing omissions, resulting in consumer injuries, could be grounds for a product liability claim in California. Consumers can file claims against manufacturers for defective products if they cause physical injuries, financial losses, or emotional harm. Most product-related claims will involve the rules of strict liability. This means the manufacturer will be strictly liable for injuries its defective guardrails cause. Injured victims do not have to prove how the manufacturer was negligent; only that the guardrail contained a defect, and that this defect caused the injuries in question.
Discuss your case with an attorney if you believe you have grounds for a defective guardrail accident claim. Guardrail manufacturers owe high standards of care to create products that will reasonably prevent harm to consumers in collisions. Breaching this standard of care is an act of negligence that may place liability with the manufacturer or distributor for damages related to a serious car accident. It is also possible that Caltrans could share liability for a defective guardrail accident in California, for failing to remove guardrails with known safety risks. A product liability lawyer can help you determine liability and prove your case.