Are Nation's Guardrails Unsafe & Outdated?
Nationwide, X-LITE guardrails make up about 1% of the total guardrail stock. According to a report from the US Department of Transportation's Federal Highways Administration, X-LITE guardrails have been installed in at least 29 states. An estimated 14,000 of the guardrails are in use nationwide, with concentrations of the allegedly defective product in seven states:
- North Carolina
- West Virginia
Deaths have been confirmed in New Hampshire, Texas, Missouri, Tennessee, South Carolina and Virginia. Severe guardrail injuries have been reported elsewhere.
States Announce Plans To Remove X-LITE Guardrails From Use
Many states have already announced plans to remove and replace X-LITE guardrails on state-owned roads. In Maryland, for example, officials from the state's Highway Administration intend to replace about 900 X-LITE guardrail end terminals, upgrading the system to comply with a stricter set of safety standards put in place last July.
In March 2018, Texas announced a similar initiative, banning the use of X-LITE guardrails and detailing plans to replace over 1,900 of the end terminals from its own highways. Tennessee, which has the third most X-LITE guardrails installed, has declared its intentions to replace all of the affected guardrails on its roadways.
A number of other states, including Rhode Island, North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia have followed suit, passing their own bans on the controversial technology.
Why Are Families Filing X-LITE Lawsuits?
In their lawsuits, families call the X-LITE guardrail "dangerous and defective," saying that, unlike other guardrail systems, the X-LITE model fails to telescope in a crash.
The lawsuits describe horrific injuries and several fatal crashes. One lawsuit, filed in South Carolina in January 2018, explains what happened when an SUV went off the road, colliding with an X-LITE guardrail in Spartanburg. "Instead of absorbing the crash's impact, as designed," US News & World Report writes, "beams from the rail were allowed to 'pierce through the GMC's exterior and frame,' puncturing all the way through to the backseat, on the passenger side."
The passenger, a young woman, was struck by the guardrail, suffering "immediate, horrible, and agonizing pain," court records report. She suffered severe internal damage and ultimately died, the lawsuit claims. Similar accidents, all attributed to the X-LITE's allegedly faulty design, have been reported in several other lawsuits.
Is The X-LITE Guardrail Defective?
Most guardrails, Knox News reports, are designed to telescope upon impact, preventing the guardrail's metal end from piercing vehicles, or worse, the bodies of a driver or passenger. X-LITE guardrails, on the other hand, are said to bear a significant design defect that prevents them from telescoping properly. Families also claim that the guardrails come with inscrutable instructions and that, as a result, construction crews have been unable to install them correctly.
Often describing severe injuries, including a leg amputation, or a loved one's death, the plaintiffs allege that Lindsay Transportation Solutions failed to disclose "known problems and defects" with the X-LITE's design. Lawsuits accuse Lindsay of failing to seek independent safety testing for the guardrail system; the company that tested the X-LITE guardrail is owned by the Lindsay Corporation.
Tennessee Officials Worry About Guardrail Safety
John Schroer, Commissioner of Tennessee's Department of Transportation, has corroborated some of these claims. In an April 2017 letter to the Federal Highway Administration, Schroer relayed his decision to remove all of the state's X-LITE guardrails, saying that Lindsey Transportation Solutions was unable to clarify the guardrail's installation instructions.
As Schroer explained, the instructions that accompanied the X-LITE guardrails lacked any specifications on bolt torque, leaving road crews to guess as to how to install the guardrails. Moreover, the official continued, a series of road crashes and fatalities had left the Tennessee Department of Transportation deeply worried about the X-LITE guardrail's safety.
"Our experience with the X-LITE Terminals," Schroer wrote, "has revealed in-service performance that we believe does not provide adequate protection of motorists on our network of roads. Our concern," the Department of Transportation Commissioner went on, "is based on crashes where we have observed the impact head of the unit separating horizontally from the adjacent w-beam guardrail, sliding past this adjacent section of w-beam which then could and has penetrated a vehicle cabin."
Experts Say X-LITE Guardrail Can Fail Catastrophically
Throughout the country, guardrails are installed alongside our highways to cushion and guide vehicles in the event of an impact event. When struck at their end points, guardrails should absorb the energy of the crash and telescope, giving way under the force of the collision.
In investigating a series of fatal crashes, expert guardrail design technicians have found that X-LITE guardrails in particular may be dangerously flawed. Instead of telescoping safely away, these experts have found, X-LITE guardrails appear to remain rigid, spearing vehicles and leading to severe personal injuries and fatal accidents.
Tragically, our nation's roadways feature hundreds of thousands of defective guardrails that fail to telescope properly, creating a substantial and pervasive risk of injury.
Attorneys Take Aim At Outmoded Safety Standards
Attorneys for the growing X-LITE litigation argue that the guardrail system was approved for public use under an old, outdated set of safety and quality standards that cannot hope to capture real world crash scenarios. The Highway Traffic Administration has been tasked with approving new guardrail technologies for use in America. Manufacturers submit their new models for testing, then forward the results of these safety tests on to the Federal Highway Administration.
Once approved, the guardrail receives a reimbursement eligibility letter, meaning that states can use federal grants to purchase the product. Unfortunately, X-LITE guardrails received their federal approval by undergoing a minimal battery of safety tests, one that fails to take into account situations that occur in the real world.
As attorneys have learned, these old safety standards are woefully outdated; the federal government simply can't keep up with newer technologies. While newer standards were approved and put in place in June 2018, many of the guardrails currently installed along our highways were cleared for use under the old standards. It's unlikely that any of these guardrails will be replaced until after a car has crashed into them.
Trinity, Inc. Faces Guardrail Litigation Of Its Own
True to form, Lindsay Transportation Solutions isn't the only company to come under fire for selling allegedly defective guardrail systems that put drivers at risk. Another guardrail manufacturer, Trinity, Inc., is in hot water over its ET-Plus guardrail. The company has faced numerous lawsuits, including at least one whistleblower suit, filed in relation to severe injuries and fatalities, with strong accusations of negligence and failure to warn.
In 2015, a Texas court found that Trinity had committed fraud by modifying the ET-Plus guardrail's design, surreptitiously removing portions of steel from the guardrail's end terminal, without notifying federal officials of the change. Trinity was ordered to pay $663 million in compensation to the US government.
In their personal injury lawsuits, injured drivers and their loved ones say Trinity's secretive modifications to the ET-Plus guardrail made the model more dangerous, leading to a higher rate of severe injury and death.