What Happens When Something Meant to Protect is Lethal?

June 15th, 2017 by Attorney Julie Butcher

You probably won’t think about them until you hit one. Guardrails are all around us when we drive in Kentucky, especially on the highway, on curves and bridges. Ideally, they’re supposed to limit the damage done if we hit them, but that’s not always the case.

At least four are dead after three accidents where vehicles struck the ends of guardrails in Tennessee since June of last year. The guardrails didn’t buckle to absorb the energy of the crash, like they’re supposed to — instead they impaled the vehicles. The guardrail doing the damage is the Lindsay X-LITE, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel.

  • Seventeen year old Hannah Eimers was killed last November after her car went off the left side of Interstate 75 and hit an X-LITE guardrail end. It penetrated her vehicle and killed her instantly. Her father, Steven Eimers, was subsequently billed $3,000 by TDOT to replace the guardrail. It later admitted it made a mistake by sending the bill.
  • In the early morning of June 29 last year, Jacob Davidson was driving eastbound on I-40 in Cumberland County when he drove off the left side of the highway and struck an X-LITE guardrail end. According to the accident report, the vehicle “was impaled by the guardrail” which struck the driver and a passenger in the rear seat before it stopped in the trunk. The 18-year-old driver and the 21-year-old passenger were both killed.
  • Less than a week later, an SUV driven by Curtis Byrd, Jr., drove off the left side of I-75 in Chattanooga. The car hit an X-LITE guardrail end, which impaled the vehicle and killed Byrd’s passenger, his uncle Wilbert.

The State of Tennessee apparently didn’t learn its lesson, because after two of those accidents the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) replaced the damaged guardrails with the same product. The agency later decided to stop using the model and is in the process of replacing them.

The X-LITE’s maker, Trinity Industries, Inc., settled a “whistleblower” lawsuit concerning the dangers of its guardrails for $663 million. It’s appealing a ruling that it altered a different guardrail end model (ET-Plus) without approval from the Federal Highway Administration. The company is also involved in a number of lawsuits involving injuries and deaths allegedly caused by the guardrail ends. The newspaper estimates there are more than 20,000 of the dangerous guardrail terminals on Tennessee roads.

Joshua Harman, the whistleblower involved in the lawsuit, told the newspaper the issue involving the ET-Plus was fraud, while the handling of the X-LITE is “total disregard” for safety because the Federal Highway Administration “just approved it and put it on the highway and didn’t care.” Harman claims the federal agency has “zero concern” for safety until issues are publicly exposed.

The X-LITE guardrail end isn’t used in Kentucky, according to Gannett, but this is an example of the complexity of what may appear to be a simple accident. You may not think twice about hearing of a fatal accident after a car hits a guardrail. You may just assume that’s what happens when guardrails are struck at highway speeds. But, as these accidents show, it’s not always that simple. You may be involved in a collision and the responsible parties may seem clear to you, but without a full investigation by an experienced legal team you may never know all the parties who are at fault.

If you or a family member has been injured in a vehicle accident in Kentucky, you can rely on the Julie Butcher Law Office, which has extensive experience handling the claims of those injured in vehicle accidents. Call us at 859-233-3641 or fill out our contact form so we can talk about the circumstances of your case and how we might help your family obtain compensation for your injuries.