Caltrans halts use of dangerous guard rails after injuries ensue

Written on behalf of Abramson Smith Waldsmith LLP

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Imagine you are driving along a scenic California highway. A momentary distraction or slight overcorrection inadvertently sends your car off the roadway. You fear that you might go over a cliff or into a ravine. Panic overtakes you until you see something that gives you hope: there is a guardrail installed along the roadway. You know that these guardrails are supposed to be there to protect people involved in accidents, working to spread out the force applied in a crash so that the vehicle is safely slowed without additional injuries. Little do you know, however, that the end cap (the “end terminal”) of this particular guardrail is installed incorrectly. Not only will it be of little help to you, it is likely to impale your vehicle and cause serious injuries.

Tragically, this exact situation is much more than a hypothetical for some people across California and around the country: it actually happened to them. Several types of guardrails designed, manufactured and distributed by Trinity Highway Products LLC have been specifically implicated in injury-causing crashes around the state.

Design flaw + human error = injuries waiting to happen

The problem with the faulty guardrails at issue in these cases is that it is incredibly easy for even trained technicians to install them improperly. When correctly assembled, they have been rigorously tested as a safety device and proven to work as designed. Simply flip one piece upside down inadvertently, or misalign the guardrail or end terminal slightly, and the mechanism could “jam” in a crash. When that happens, something that should function as a barrier instead becomes, in effect, a giant harpoon. Instead of stopping a vehicle, the end terminal will actually tear through it, impaling the engine and passenger compartment – and anyone unlucky enough to be in its path will suffer greatly.

Caltrans recognizes the potential harm

Caltrans, the California Department of Transportation, has recently taken the extraordinary step of halting use of several varieties of Trinity guardrails. This was brought about following legal action and statewide lobbying on behalf of a client of renowned San Francisco law firm . The underlying accident at the center of the firm’s legal efforts involved a California family, whose van was impaled by a faulty guardrail, leaving a loving father and his young son with horrific injuries.

The lawsuit resulting from that crash discovered the extent of the hazard involved when these guardrails are used, and led to the July 2016 announcement that Caltrans would no longer use Trinity’s SRT 350 6-post, 8-post and 9-post guardrail systems, as well as the company’s SRT-27SP and SRT-31 end treatments. According to Caltrans, this ban will remain in place until such time as Trinity provides unequivocal markings and instructions to clearly indicate proper alignment of the product’s components, so as to ensure that they can no longer be incorrectly installed.

Caltrans may have announced an indefinite ban on these faulty products, but they are still in use around the state. If you or someone you love has suffered injury after a guardrail failure following a car accident on a California roadway, you have legal rights. Contact a firm with a proven track record of tireless advocacy for the injured: call today.

Jeffrey R. Smith

Jeffrey R. Smith

Managing Partner

Robert B. Waldsmith

Robert J. Waldsmith

Partner, 1999

William B. Smith

William B. Smith

Partner, 1978

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