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Expert files chilling wrongful death lawsuit

Many of West Virginia's roads and highways are lined with guardrails that are supposed to stop vehicles from traveling off the roadway. In other words, guardrails are meant to be safety features that help prevent fatal accidents. However, one man has been on a tireless mission to expose the hidden dangers of many of these guardrails that are prevalent all throughout the nation's roadways.

The man, Joshua Harman, has his own guardrail installation company, though he has recently had to financially reorganize his business. Last year, Harman devoted more than 300 days away from his family and home to travel the country's highways and collect evidence to support his guardrail theory.

He believes that a design change in some guardrail components has made them act like giant spears that pierce through vehicles upon impact. By contrast, guardrails are supposed to behave like shock absorbers when a vehicle smashes into them. Specifically, he alleges that one of the largest guardrail manufacturers, Trinity Industries Inc., modified their design about 10 years ago without getting any approval from federal authorities.

Harman says that Trinity's new design causes a part of the guardrail, known as the end-terminal, to stiffen upon impact. Thus, instead of absorbing and spreading the shock of the impact, the end-terminal just becomes a rigid piece of steel that cuts right through vehicles.

Harman has filed a whistleblower cause of action that is making its way through the court system. In addition, accident victims have filed their own wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits. Because these guardrails are so common and they have been involved in numerous accidents, the amount of monetary damages at stake could eclipse $1 billion.

Following any fatal accident, victims' families deserve to get some answers. Many times, those answers come out when the family pursues compensation through a wrongful death action. Regardless of whether Harman prevails in his lawsuit, he has undoubtedly drawn attention to something that could result in safer roadways in the future.

Source: Bloomberg, "Highway Guardrails Are Deadly Spears on Impact, Says Whistleblower," Patrick G. Lee, June 12, 2014

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