Jackson County sues in fight over guardrail caps

A Jackson County class-action lawsuit involves guardrail endcaps which it alleges can cause injury and death.

A Jackson County class-action lawsuit involves guardrail end caps which it alleges can cause injury and death. Photos filed with Jackson County lawsuit.

By Joe Lambe

Jackson County last week filed a class-action lawsuit that seeks to make a Dallas company pay to replace many guardrail end sections in most Missouri counties.

The lawsuit in Jackson County Circuit Court contends Trinity Industries secretly changed the design of the caps in a way that makes them dangerous.

It follows many lawsuits elsewhere related to the same issue.

The county has already replaced many of the end caps and wants to be reimbursed, Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders said in a media release.

“Once we were aware of a potential issue we moved as quickly as possible ….,” he said.

A Trinity spokesman said today it would not be appropriate to comment on the litigation at this time.

An undamaged end cap.

An undamaged end cap.

Allegedly to cut costs, the company in about 2005 made undisclosed changes to the cap design that had previously been approved by federal authorities.

Because of the change – removal of an inch of metal and more –  lawsuits contend guardrails are far more prone to penetrate, flip or misdirect vehicles.

Rails with the new caps are over three times more likely to result in deaths than those with the previous caps, according to a report by the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

The Federal Highway Administration learned of undisclosed redesign in 2012. It sued, a jury in 2014 found Trinity liable for fraud with a $175 million verdict that was tripled. This June, a federal judge ordered the company to pay $663 million for defrauding the government.

By 2014, lawsuits involving the caps and injuries to motorists were also pending.

The new Jackson County lawsuit describes how the caps were intended to allow the guardrail to pass through them to the side, flattened like a ribbon.

An endocarp that performed properly in a crash.

An end cap that performed properly in a crash.

The change impeded that, according to lawsuit: “Instead of ribboning away from the vehicle, the guardrail spears or pierces the vehicle, or causes the vehicle to vault, rollover, or redirect in other unintended ways,” resulting in injury or death.

The lawsuit includes pictures of end caps that did not perform properly.

It asks for trial on counts that include negligence and product liability. Or in the alternative, it asks  a declaratory judgment in which a judge rules the company broke state law.

It asks the judge then order the company to pay to replace the defective caps in all Missouri counties with more than 10,000 residents.

The case is pending before Judge Kenneth R. Garrett III.

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