May 21, 2020

By Poorad Razavi and Leslie M. Kroeger

The United States civil justice system operates with an expectation that taking reasonable safety measures regarding foreseeable behavior should guard against catastrophic or fatal injuries. When a roadway related accident results in significant trauma or death, therefore, a forensic evaluation should be conducted to identify the breakdown in the safety measures that could have prevented such an outcome.

This article addresses the interplay of that philosophy with roadway-related accidents. With properly designed modern vehicles, airbags, seatbelts, reinforced roofs, sturdy seats, guardrails, and maintained roadways, these safeguards, if reasonably implemented by the respective entities, should protect against catastrophic outcomes. . This article will focus on guardrail end-terminals, in addition to other roadway-related claims, and then address issues regarding the preservation and spoliation of such evidence.

Guardrail End-Terminals

Guardrails are installed along America’s roadways for the protection of motorists. Guardrails, if properly designed, keep vehicles from straying off the roadway and, when impacted at the endpoints, should absorb or dissipate energy from the crash and give way, rather than remaining rigid and potentially penetrating the accident vehicle. But, unfortunately, there are tens of thousands of guardrails that will not achieve this purpose due to either poor design or improper installation.

On November 1, 2016, 17-year-old Hannah Eimers was driving her father’s Volvo S80 on Interstate 75 near Niota, Tennessee, when the car went off the road, traveled into the median, and hit a Lindsay X-Lite guardrail end-terminal on the driver’s side. Instead of the guardrail end-terminal telescoping back on impact or re-directing the vehicle, the guardrail end-terminal penetrated the car, impaling and killing Hannah.

Ironically and tragically, on October 26, 2016, just six days before Hannah was killed, the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) had removed the Lindsay X-Lite guardrail end terminal from its qualified products list, based upon concerns for potential performance issues of the system.

The decision to remove the Lindsay X-Lite guardrail end terminal from the state’s qualified products list meant that TDOT would not replace or install new Lindsay X-Lite guardrail terminals. The same X-Lite guardrail system had already been involved in several other fatal crashes at the time of Hannah’s death. Later in 2016, TDOT decided to remove these guardrail end terminals entirely from roads where the speed limit is greater than 45 mph.

Earlier that year, on July 2, 2016, 69-year-old Wilbert Byrd was killed on I-75 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, when, while riding as a passenger in a 2015 Ford Explorer driven by his nephew, the vehicle left the roadway and collided with a Lindsay X-Lite guardrail end-terminal. Once again, the guardrail’s W-beams penetrated the vehicle and traveled through the vehicle’s cabin. It entered through the center dashboard and exited the rear windshield. Over 60 feet of guardrail passed through the vehicle in a matter of seconds.

To date, of all the uncovered highway speed frontal impacts involving an X-Lite, every one of them has resulted in an actual and/or potential penetration.

The complete article can be accessed here.