Taking Action

Guardrails blamed for deaths still on Virginia roads seven years later

Taking Action

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — An 8News investigation uncovered that guardrails blamed for deaths and injuries in multiple lawsuits across the country still line roads here in Virginia.

8News recently spotted a Trinity guardrail, specifically a Trinity ET Plus 4-inch end terminal along Robious Road in Chesterfield. It’s not approved for use on Virginia roads.

It is also the very same guardrail end terminal that multiple lawsuits claim penetrated cars during crashes.

The Coster family in Newport News believes the guardrail impaled and killed Adam Coster. In 2015, his mother Donna told reporters, “they took away a very important part of our life.”

The family’s lawsuit alleges instead of “ribboning” away, the ET Plus guardrail end terminal pierced Coster’s car.

Donna said, “you don’t ever get over losing a child.”

The incident is similar to allegations and images found in lawsuits filed throughout the U.S.

In 2014, The Virginia Department of Transportation announced plans to remove the guardrails. So, 8News and others found it surprising to see the Trinity guardrail still on the road.

“It does surprise me that it’s been now 7 years since that announcement and that they are still on the road,” Scott Fitzgerald said. Fitzgerald is a Richmond attorney with The Allen Law Firm.

He has kept a close eye on litigation involving the Trinity guardrails. He’s even blogged about the potential dangers.

“There have unfortunately been deaths, there have been amputations,” Fitzgerald said.

Virginia has filed suit against the guardrail manufacturer alleging fraud. The lawsuit claims Trinity Industries “secretly redesigned” the product.

The suit alleges unbeknownst to VDOT, Trinity altered the end terminal head size from 5 inches wide to 4 inches wide.

“They did that according to internal emails to save two dollars per guardrail,” Fitzgerald said.

Trinity has stated that the company “inadvertently failed to disclose the change.” In that same internal email, a Trinity executive wrote, “I’m feeling that we could make this change with no announcements.” A change, according to court documents, lead to “defective end terminals” and an “ongoing danger to motorists.”

It was so concerning to VDOT that in 2015 the agency paid for testing.

Fitzgerald said, “The Attorney General’s Office filed in documents in Richmond Circuit Court that one of those tests was a failure.”

8News sent VDOT photos of that guardrail we found in Chesterfield. They confirmed it’s a Trinity ET Plus 4-inch but we’re told removal is still ongoing 7 years later.

A VODT spokesperson told 8News, VDOT “is prioritizing replacements on interstates and roads with speeds posted at 55 mph or higher.” The agency said this is “where crashes could be more severe.”

The speed limit on Robious Road is 45 mph.

8News asked Fitzgerald if it is believed the guardrails are safe on roads with lower speeds, Fitzgerald said, “I haven’t seen data to show that they are safe.”

Fitzgerald wants VDOT to show Virginians the evidence that the Trinity guardrails are safe at lower speeds or remove them all soon.

“The last thing we want to see if someone else get injured or even killed,” Fitzgerald said.

Jeff Eller, a spokesperson for Trinity said, “The ET Plus meets all federal highway standards, is still on the federal highway approval list and that no court has found them defective.”

When 8News asked how the guardrail penetrated Coster’s car, Eller said, “We don’t comment on individual cases.”

Meantime, it was shortly after 8News reached out to VDOT, we noticed that Robious Road guardrail was marked for removal. It has now been removed and replaced. A VDOT spokesperson said they could tell from our photos the guardrail was damaged.

VDOT said it is unclear how many Trinity guardrails are still on Virginia roads because in-field assessments to determine if a guardrail is a 4 or 5-inch terminal are ongoing. The 5-inch guardrails will remain on the roads.

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