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Motorists' products liability concerns may extend beyond vehicles

In many products liability actions involving motorists and their vehicles, some defect in the vehicle itself is the focus of the products liability suit. The ongoing General Motors investigation referenced in this blog in a previous post is a recent example of this phenomenon. But sometimes the defective product is not the automobile itself, but a part of the infrastructure that drivers must travel.

A guardrail manufactured by Trinity Industries, Inc. has been the subject of lawsuits filed in several states, including Texas, alleging that an alteration made in the guardrail to save money has resulted in the deaths of four people and has contributed to injuries for ten others.

The company, based in Dallas, Texas, admits to reducing a piece of metal that absorbs energy when an object crashes into the guardrail. The change was expected to save the company $50,000 a year.

Regardless of the savings to the manufacturer, the alleged costs in human pain and suffering have been considerable. A study showed that the alteration is close to 1.4 times more likely to contribute to serious injury and about 2.85 times more likely to cause a fatality.

Guardrails are supposed to be designed to absorb impact, slow down the vehicle and turn the side of the rail away from the car. But after the alteration the railing apparently moves toward the vehicle, often piercing it like a metal spear.

In addition to the products liability questions, a Texas jury has found the company liable for defrauding the federal government in connection with representations about the changes. The Federal Highway Administration has ordered a study of the guardrails, which are in use in all 50 states.

Any product that causes injury or even death due to the negligence or even willful actions of the manufacturer may provide the basis for a products liability lawsuit. If you or a loved one has been involved in such an incident, an attorney with experience in the intricate law of products liability can help assess whether the company may owe you compensation.

Source: RTV6, "Guardrail maker found guilty of defrauding US," Oct. 21, 2014

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