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Faulty Guardrails are Back in the News

Faulty guardrails are back in the news after the father of teen killed in a Tennessee crash receives a bill for $2,970 to replace the guardrail that killed his daughter.

In the early morning hours of November 1, 2016 Steven Eimers’ 17-year-old daughter Hannah Eimers was driving a 2000 Volvo S80 northbound on Interstate 75 near Niota, Tennessee when her car left the road, traveling into the median, and sending the car into the end of a guardrail with the impact occurring in the area of the driver-side door. According to the Tennessee Highway Patrol accident report, instead of acting as safety mechanism, and defecting or absorbing the impact, the guardrail instead impaled the vehicle, striking the teen in the head and chest, pushing her into the back seat, and killing her on impact.

According to several news agencies, Steven Eimers claims that four months after his daughters death, the Tennessee Department of Transportation, sent her a bill for the cost of labor and materials to install 25 feet of guardrail at the scene of the crash.

The guardrail, the deceased teen had been billed to replace was a known safety hazard. According to transportation officials, the x-Lite guardrail end, which is supposed to collapse like a telescope when hit on the end, didn’t always work as expected at speeds higher than about 60 mph, along the section of I-75 where Hannah Eimers crash occurred the posted speed limit is 70-mph.

While Steven Eimers was upset at receiving the bill he was even more upset that the state of Tennessee was using the X-LITE guardrail end, a model that the state transportation department had removed from its approved products list just one week earlier.

The removal of the guardrails X-LITE guardrail ends from roadways in Tennessee and states across the country came after the safety of the products were called into question in a whistleblower lawsuit. The suit, filed by whistleblower Joshua Harman claimed that the maker of the guardrails, Trinity Industries, had altered its ET-Plus model terminal without getting approval from the Federal Highway Administration.

Speaking to the unapproved design changes, Harman stated that the approved design had “worked perfectly and they changed it for monetary reasons and now it’s killing people.”

Harman won his suit and the federal government reached a $633 million settlement against Trinity Industries. As a result, numerous lawsuits have been filed nationwide in which crash victims alleged the unauthorized changes caused the guardrails to spear vehicles, resulting in injuries and deaths.

In addition to the X-Lite guardrail system another commonly used guardrail system, the ET Plus system. The ET Plus system was removed from the approved list by the Tennessee Department of Transportation, as well as numerous other states transportation agencies in 2014 after the Federal Government raised questions about the safety of the terminal.[1] This past week the Tennessee Dept. of transportation announced, that based on fall an analysis of the X-Lite System, that included crash data and included the number of fatalities, the department had decided to remove all X-Lite guardrails in areas of higher speeds, more than 45 miles per hour. Totaling about 1,000 systems that will require replacement.

Not all states have taken the same stance as Tennessee. For example North Carolina is still using the questionable guardrail systems. A 2015 report by new station WRAL in Raleigh states that NC is one of the only states that have not banned the guard

Mr. Eimers plans to work to make the roads we all use safer to travel. He stated, “What bothers me is that they’re playing Russian roulette with people’s lives. They know these devices do not perform at high speeds and in situations like my daughter’s accident, but they leave them in place.” He went on to conclude that he wanted to be able to look at other parents whose lives may be impacted by such a tragedy and say, ‘I tried to make some changes in the culture of TDOT. I tried to get some dangerous devices off the road.’

State transportation department spokesman Mark Nagi apologized to the family of Hannah Eimers, calling the bill a result of “a mistake somewhere in processing.”

Nagi went on to explain that the State is planning to take action. He said that the transportation department’s removal of the model from its product list means the agency will not use it in new installations, but roughly 1,000 guardrail ends will remain on Tennessee roads. He also explained that as of March 31st, the transportation department will begin accepting bids for a contract to remove most of them in places where the speed limit exceeds 45 mph.”

OTHER CASES

January 26, 2014:             Hillsborough NC

Jay Traylor’s SUV veered off Interstate 40 in Hillsborough on Jan. 26, 2014, and into an ET Plus guardrail. It pierced his car, severing one leg. The other leg was so badly mangled that it had to be amputated. He now stands on prosthetics, which he compares to balancing on chopstick[2]

State of TN

[1] http://wate.com/2017/03/24/tdot-plans-to-remove-some-guardrails-after-concerns-with-performance/[1]

[2] http://www.wral.com/guardrail-blamed-in-deaths-banned-in-nearly-every-state-but-nc/14435163/