Lawsuits Seek Compensation for Deaths Caused by X-Lite Guardrails
By Sean Lally, Staff Writer
Hannah Eimers was a polylingual cosplay artist at the age of 17. She was an autodidact, having schooled herself in the basic tenets of guitar and piano. Early one morning, after sleeping at a friend’s house following a Halloween party, she found herself off the road as she was driving to school. Attempting to find her way back, the end terminal of a Lindsay X-Lite guardrail punctured her door, killing her immediately.
Tragedy Leads to Lawsuit
Recounting these events to the Washington Post, Eimers’ father, Steve, said in the months following the accident, he thought a great deal about the details of the accident. Eventually, Mr. Eimers came to the conclusion that something wasn’t right about the guardrail. “It should have been, at worst, a minor-injury accident with property damage — probably little to no injury,” he told the Post. “The girl that was with her in the other seat had a little, tiny cut.” After all, he discovered, the terminal end should have given in to the impact instead of slicing through the vehicle.
As it turned out, the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) had already intended to discontinue the guardrails. “They knew it was dangerous,” Mr. Eimers told the Post. “They left it in place. They played Russian roulette with her life.”
According to WBIR, Eimers is one of four families filing lawsuits against Lindsay Corp. of Omaha, Nebraska and other defendants associated with the creation of the allegedly faulty guardrails. Lauren Beuttel, Jacob Davison and Wilbert Byrd died in circumstances similar to Ms. Eimers. Their families filed lawsuits last month.
Beuttel’s mother, LaDeana Gambill had this to say in a heartfelt statement to the press: "While nothing will bring Lauren back, my family and those of the other victims are committed to doing everything in our power to prevent these avoidable tragedies from reoccurring." She continued, "At the same time, the Lindsay Corporation must be held responsible for its actions, which have already claimed several lives."
According to the suits, the X-Lite guardrail has potentially caused numerous deaths in several states. In Tennessee, there were four deaths (as mentioned); in Missouri, there were two; and in Virginia, there was one. Plaintiffs claim that instead of crinkling as they’re supposed to, the guardrails in question impaled vehicles that were unlucky enough to collide with them.
TDOT has since attempted to address the matter, saying they will, by June, 2018, remove and replace 1,800 X-Lite guardrails, a project that will most likely cost $3.6 million. Already, the state department has successfully replaced 112 guardrails in the Knoxville area. Other states remain reticent on the issue, even though they’ve stated their intention to commence a project similar to Tennessee’s.
In spite of the recent claims, the defendant maintains that the guardrails are satisfactory with regard to safety concerns. In a statement to CBS, Lindsay Transportation Solutions had this to say: "For Lindsay Transportation Solutions, providing products that save lives is our top priority. Any allegations questioning the safety of X-Lite are without merit. X-Lite has successfully passed crash and safety tests in accordance with federal standards and criteria, and remains qualified for use on America's roadways.”
The Federal Highway Administration also released a statement, to notify the public that it is looking into the matter and perhaps to cover their bases in terms of liability: “We continue to collect information and monitor X-Lite performance in coordination with state DOTs. It is important to note that the FHWA does not certify products; it only lists them as eligible to be acquired with federal funds. States make their own determination about roadside hardware."
Obstacle for Defendants
In arguing their case, defendants will have to explain the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, which “found that six of the nine accredited U.S. crash test laboratories evaluate products that were developed by employees of the parent organization.” This, the report notes, could severely affect neutrality in the testing of products. Needless to say, the lab that tested the X-Lite guardrails is owned by Lindsay.
Looking ahead, advocates of transportation safety hope the courts will take into consideration the grave effects that a conflict of interest can have on highway safety.