When you are driving down a Philadelphia-area roadway, you likely don’t pay much attention to the various features of the road itself, such as the paint, the jersey barriers, or the guardrails. Yet each of these elements plays an important role in the overall safety of drivers on our roadways — and if one of them is improperly designed, manufactured, or installed, it could result in serious injuries.
This is the allegation in a Tennessee case that has had an impact in states across the country — including right here in Pennsylvania. In November 2016, 17-year-old Hannah Eimers was driving in Tennessee when her vehicle hit an X-LITE guardrail (manufactured by Lindsay Corporation).
According to the lawsuit filed by her family, the end of the guardrail sliced through her car door, hitting Hannah in the head and killing her instantly. According to the Tennessee Department of Transportation, when the X-LITE guardrail is hit at rates of speed higher than 62.5 miles per hour — common on many highways — it does not always work as designed. Instead of telescoping (sliding into each other), the guardrails might separate horizontally and pierce vehicle cabins.
In Pennsylvania, there are X-LITE guardrails installed across the state. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) announced in February 2018 that it would suspend the installation of these defective guardrails. In May 2018, PennDot stated that it was conducting an inventory of all X-LITE guardrails in use across the state. This will allow the department to pinpoint exactly where these guardrails are in use — and to potentially remove them based on safety concerns.
As experienced Philadelphia car accident attorneys, we understand the devastation that can be caused by a car crash. When a serious injury or death is caused by something that should protect drivers — such as a guardrail — it can be even more distressing. At Solick & Associates, we have experience handling a wide range of car accident cases. We will thoroughly investigate your case to help determine who is responsible for your damages — and help you achieve the best possible outcome.
Which Guardrails Are Linked to Safety Issues?
Guardrails are designed to keep motorists safe, providing a barrier between the road and whatever lies beyond it. Unfortunately, in recent years, evidence has been discovered that shows that some guardrails may actually be defective. Instead of working as they should to absorb the shock and impact of an accident, protecting drivers from harm, they have actually led to more serious accidents. In some cases, defective guardrails may have actually caused death or serious injury.
The main culprit appears to be X-LITE guardrails. Specifically, the end treatment of these guardrails may be impaling vehicles instead of mitigating the effects of the crash. To date, at least seven deaths in Tennessee, Missouri, and Virginia have been attributed to X-LITE’s defective guardrails.
X-LITE guardrails are made up of multiple pieces of metal that are designed to slide into each other like a telescope when hit by a car. This design is meant to not only absorb some of the impact of the crash, but to prevent the metal of the guardrail from going into the vehicle itself. However, it appears that whenever cars strike these guardrails at rates of speed higher than 62.2 miles per hour (the standard crash test speed for guardrail ends), they break apart horizontally instead of telescoping. The result can be fatal, as the metal may go into the vehicle and hit the occupants.
Importantly, these guardrails have also been implicated in fatal accidents when the metal pieces telescope as designed. This suggests that the X-LITE guardrail may be unreasonably dangerous, and should be removed from the marketplace.
Another issue with the X-LITE guardrails, according to the Tennessee Department of Transportation, is that the installation instructions are unclear. Because the manufacturer did not provide proper instructions for important aspects of installation, such as bolt torque, it may have resulted in the guardrails performing differently than how they were tested. In other words, because the installation instructions were unclear, the guardrails were not installed correctly, and so they may not have performed as designed.
How the State Can Be Held Liable for Defective Guardrails
In Pennsylvania, the Supreme Court recently found that the state can be held liable for negligently-installed or defective guardrails. Cagey v. Commonwealth is an important ruling because it gives victims of car accidents the ability to pursue another potentially responsible person for their injuries: the government.
In this case, Joisse and Dale Cagey were driving in western Pennsylvania when they lost control of their car after hitting a patch of snow and ice. They hit a guardrail, and Joisse suffered serious injuries when the guardrail impaled the side of the vehicle. The Cageys sued PennDOT over the accident, arguing that it was negligent in installing a “boxing glove” style guardrail that was not crashworthy, and in failing to inspect or correct problems with the guardrail.
The case went up to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which overruled longstanding precedent to find that the Cageys could pursue their case. While the government is not required to install guardrails, once it does, it can be held liable for guardrails that are negligently and dangerously designed.
The legal principles in the Cagey case are complex, involving matters of sovereign immunity and waiver. However, the case illustrates that with the help of a skilled Philadelphia car accident attorney, you may be able to pursue a case against a number of potentially responsible parties for an accident — including the manufacturer of a defective product or the government.
Contact a Philadelphia Car Accident Attorney Today
Solnick & Associates works hard to help our clients get the compensation that they deserve for their injuries. If you have been hurt in a Philadelphia area car accident, we are here for you. Contact us today to schedule a free initial consultation.