Every day we see the guardrails that look like the one in this picture. We assume they have been properly tested and are there to protect us if we go off the road for any reason. Every day we pass them without a second thought, but these “end treatments” are creating a hazard much worse than those accidents they are meant to prevent.
This end treatment is called the Trinity ET-Plus and the physics are fairly simple: Transfer the kinetic (movement) energy from the impacting vehicle to the guardrail by having the W-shaped beam extrude through the head while the head’s breaker bars used the energy of the impacting vehicle to shear off the posts that hold the beam about 31 inches off the ground.
Click here to view Trinity’s own video showing how this type of end treatment is supposed to work.
The posts are meant to break away and the w-type rail is supposed to ribbon through the ET-Plus while it absorbs the kinetic energy if the impact. The extruded rail is designed to curl like an old-fashioned tin can opener and let the vehicle hitting on the end decelerate with in humanly tolerable limits.
However, in cases throughout America, countless people have been injured or killed when the device failed to contain the vehicle but instead redirected it into a more dangerous path or sliced through the heart of the vehicle impaling it on the end of the guardrail.
To understand what is happening requires looking at the evolution of this product.
The ET-Plus was a 1999 variation of the previously used ET-2000 extruder head. It was designed, invented and developed by engineers at Texas A&M who granted exclusive licenses to Trinity. The new ET-Plus differs from the original head in the size and shape of its face plate and in the omission or reduction in size of several of its non-structural components.
The ET-PLUS is almost 100 pounds lighter than the original ET-2000 head and expanded the rectangular box from 1’3’ to 2’4’’ as well as other changes. The ET-Plus guardrail end terminal was originally designed having an extruder head with a width of 5 inches.
The next design changes came without notice to the Federal or State and it is these changes that are at the heart of the nationwide controversy. In 2005, the width of the feeder channel was reduced from 5 inches to 4 inches. Around the same time that change was made, the height of the feeder channel, highlighted here in red, was changed from 15 3/8 inches to 14 7/8 inches, according to lawsuits filed against the manufacturer, Trinity Industries.
|Exit Gate||Significantly larger than 1”||1.0 inches|
|Feeder Channel Width||5 inches||4 inches|
|Feeder Chute Assembly Height a. exterior||15 3/8 inches||14 7/8 inches|
|Feeder Chute Assembly Length||37 inches||36 1/4 inches|
According to lawsuits filed across the country, these unannounced changes in feeder channel width and height end up causing injuries, rather than preventing them.
On October 20, 2014 in a Federal Court in Marshall, Texas a jury found in favor of a whistleblower and against Trinity Industries and ordered damages of $175 million dollars on a claim where the whistleblower alleged Trinity made false claims to federal regulators when it changed its guardrail design in 2005.
According to published reports the seven jurors were asked a simple question:
Were the changes that Trinity didn’t tell the FHWA about serious enough to mean that the government had paid for something it never actually received?
The jury answered ‘yes’ to that question, concluding that Trinity “knowingly made, used or caused to be made or used a false record or statement material to a false or fraudulent claim.” The case is U.S. ex rel. Harman v. Trinity Industries Inc et al, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Texas, No. 12-00089.
As of October 30, 2014, 30 states are confirmed to have removed the ET-Plus from their approved purchase list, including: Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.
On November 12, 2014, Caltrans suspended installation of the ET –Plus guardrail end terminals.
On November 12, 2014, FHWA announced plans for further tests at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.
This office presently represents a then 18-year-old young man who suffered horrific burns in Contra Costa County when the vehicle he was riding in struck the end of the guardrail and was redirected down a hillside into another collision that horribly burned his entire body. We are in extensive discovery against Trinity at this time. If you wish any information about litigating a case involving this guardrail system, please contact Thomas Brandi at [email protected] or call 800-481-1615.
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