Lawyer seeks state probe of guardrails involved in grisly crashes
Posted February 18, 2014
Updated September 11
Raleigh, N.C. — The lawyer for a Graham man who lost both legs in a crash on Interstate 40 last month said he plans to sue a company that makes highway guardrails and ask the Attorney General's Office to investigate whether the guardrails are effective.
Jay Traylor was on his way home from Raleigh on Jan. 26 when he fell asleep at the wheel, and his SUV veered off I-40 near Hillsborough and slammed into a guardrail. The guardrail sliced through the vehicle and severed his right leg. Surgeons at Duke University Hospital had to amputate his mangled left leg.
Attorney Steven Lawrence said Tuesday that Traylor would have both of his legs if it weren't for the guardrail, which he claims is dangerous. Lawrence also represents four other people injured in guardrail crashes.
The type of guardrail involved in all of the crashes is called ET Plus and is made by Dallas-based Trinity Industries.
"On any interstate in the state of North Carolina and on a lot of major side roads, you'll see ET Plus terminals everywhere," he said.
State Department of Transportation spokesman Mike Charbonneau said more than 10,000 ET Plus guardrails line North Carolina highways.
The end terminal of the guardrail is supposed to absorb a crash, causing the guardrail to push out to the side. Lawrence said that they used to work that way, but in lawsuits he has filed in other states, he alleges that Trinity reduced the size of its end terminals to save money – without telling highway departments.
Because of the change, the guardrail doesn't collapse properly, he said.
"When you try to push a guardrail through a device that's much smaller, it locks up, impales your vehicle or otherwise violently brings it to a stop," he said.
In Traylor's case, the guardrail came through his floorboard between the accelerator and the brake, barely missed his torso and continued through the back seat, stopping short of the back door of the vehicle.
If the guardrail was designed properly, Lawrence said, "he would've (ridden) down the guardrail, come to a safe stop, and he should've been able to walk away."
Trinity spokesman Jack Todd said that the Federal Highway Administration has reviewed the ET-Plus and approved it for use, and the company plans to fight any lawsuits alleging that its design is defective.
"Trinity has a high degree of confidence in the performance and integrity of the ET-Plus System, which we are proud to manufacture and sell under license from Texas A&M University," Todd said in a statement. "The false and misleading allegations being made ... were reviewed by the Federal Highway Administration. The FHWA reaffirmed its acceptance of the ET-Plus System in October 2012, and its eligibility for use on the National Highway System."
Charbonneau said the DOT has no previous record of any issues with the ET Plus guardrails in North Carolina.