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When Guardrails Let Their Guard (and Motorists) Down

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Guardrails are intended to save lives by absorbing and dispersing the impact from a collision. Most motorists see guardrails and assume they will perform as designed, but the frightening reality is that these protective additions to the roadway often fail to protect motorists from serious injuries or death.

The Reasons Guardrails Fail

Guardrails can fail for a number of reasons including poor design and poor installation. If a guardrail is improperly secured, it may give way during an impact causing the vehicle to careen off the road and into ditches, ravines, rivers, etc.

However, the most common cause of guardrail failure is poor design; namely that they fail to crumple as they are intended. When a guardrail fails to crumple, it does not absorb the energy from the collision which means that much of this energy is transferred into the vehicle and subsequently to the drivers and passengers.

Recent Failures Raise Concerns

Guardrail failure was a factor in the November 2016 death of Hannah Eimers who died after her vehicle struck the end of a guardrail in Niota. The guardrail Eimers' vehicle struck was a Lindsay X-LITE. The device is supposed to collapse when struck on the end.

Unfortunately, it does not function as intended and as a result, the Tennessee Department of Transportation has removed it from the state's list of approved guardrails. However, the state has not replaced the more than 1,000 Lindsay X-LITE devices that are currently installed on roads throughout the state.

Until these are removed, Tennessee motorists who strike these guardrails face the very real risk of suffering serious, potentially life-threatening injuries. While the state does plan to remove these in areas where speeds exceed 60 mph, there is currently no formal plan or timeline for removal and replacement.

Liability for Defective Guardrails

The liability for a defective guardrail can fall on the manufacturer, the contractor who installed it, or the government entity that selected and installed the device on the roadway. In Tennessee, the doctrine of sovereign immunity does not shield government entities from lawsuits filed by car wreck attorneys that arise from injury or fatality accidents where guardrails failed to protect drivers or their passengers.

The Tennessee Government Tort Liability Act allows motorists to file claims against city, county, and state agencies for the negligent construction of roadways, claims for negligent maintenance, and claims for the negligence of employees responsible for ensuring guardrails meet safety standards and will perform as intended.

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