The families of three people killed in 2016 after their cars hit highway guardrails have filed wrongful death lawsuits against the guardrail manufacturer and the company that installed them. The suit was filed in a Tennessee state court, alleging that the guardrails were defective and improperly installed. The two suits, brought by the families of Jacob Davison and Lauren Beuttel and Wilbert Byrd, respectively, claim that the manufacturers of the X-Lite guardrail system — Valmont Industries, Lindsay Corp. and their subsidiaries — were defectively designed and manufactured.
Instead of the guardrail terminals “telescoping” to absorb the impact of the collision, the families contended that the guardrails pierced the cars and struck Davison, Beuttel and Byrd. The families also claim that Cumberland Guardrail Inc., which contracted with the state of Tennessee to install the guardrails, failed to correctly install the guardrails. They contend that was because Lindsay Corp. didn’t provide adequate instructions. The two lawsuits allege that Cumberland didn’t exercise reasonable care to ensure the guardrails were properly installed and secured.
Almost exactly a year ago, Jacob Davison, 18, was driving on an interstate highway in Cumberland County, Tennessee, with Lauren Beuttel, 22, sitting in the rear seat of his 2004 Toyota Solara when his vehicle left the roadway and collided “straight on” with an X-Lite guardrail end terminal. On impact, the guardrail terminal failed to stop the beams, which pierced through the car’s fender and floorboard into the compartment and struck Davison and Beuttel. In July 2014, Wilbert Byrd was a passenger in his nephew’s car when their car crashed into an X-Lite guardrail end in Chattanooga. Instead of buckling on impact, the guardrail pierced the car’s passenger compartment, going through the dashboard and exiting the windshield. It’s alleged in the complaint that more than 60 feet of guardrail passed through the car in seconds.
A statement accompanying the lawsuits stated that there have been repeated incidents of X-Lite guardrails piercing cars in Tennessee, and that since 2016, the X-Lite has been linked to at least seven deaths nationwide in which the device impaled vehicles. Currently, it’s said that there are about 14,000 X-Lite units installed across the country. While the Tennessee Department of Transportation is removing the guardrail ends, at least 20 states and Puerto Rico still have them on the highways. The families said in a statement that the Federal Highway Association has failed tp take action on the allegedly unsafe guardrail terminals, even though U.S. Tennessee Senators Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander urged the agency to revoke the letters of eligibility that signify that the guardrails passed required crash tests.
The families are represented by Ted Leopold, Leslie Kroeger and Poorad Razavi of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll. The cases are Beuttel and Gambill v. Valmont et al. in the Circuit Court of Cumberland County at Crossville, Tennessee, and Byrd v. Valmont et al. in the Circuit Court of Hamilton County at Chattanooga, Tennessee.
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