Guardrails line our highways to help us stay safe. In a crash they expected to perform in specific ways that absorb the impact and prevent injuries. To do so, they have to be manufactured and installed properly.
Some recent deaths here in Tennessee have resulted in a lawsuit claiming that a particular kind of guardrail did not perform correctly. The contractors who installed them have been caught up in the lawsuit and need representation. This case is an example of the kind of potential liability that construction firms take on and how they can defend themselves.
The accidents which sparked the suit
Four deaths here in Tennessee, and several more around the nation, came from collisions with a particular type of guardrail called the X-LITE. On impact, the rail is expected to telescope and break away from its anchor points, absorbing some of the impact of the crash. In these particular cases, that didn’t happen.
The rail instead punctured the cars, killing and injuring the passengers. Those maimed in the accidents are now suing the manufacturer and the contractors who installed the rails, claiming they are liable for the deaths which resulted from the lack of improper function.
Who is liable?
The several construction contractors who installed these rails on Tennessee roads have two basic contentions that they can use to defend themselves and claim that they are not liable for the deaths:
- There is no liability because the rails functioned as they were supposed to, given a rate of speed and other factors that may have been outside the scope of their expected performance.
- The contractors followed instructions properly and have no liability because the product they were contracted to install was defective, and they had no reason to know that at the time.
Given the high profile of the case and the number of victims, the first angle is probably not going to be the most successful. It would take proving that each of the four crashes were outside the specifications of performance. This defense would essentially link the contractors to the manufacturer in hopes that no liability would be found.
The second defense, that the product was defective, essentially pits the contractors against the manufacturer. The contention would be that in construction the instructions were followed precisely and documentation to support this would be produced. Since the manufacturer wrote the instructions, it places all liability with them.
Why are the contractors involved?
Every lawsuit starts with a “discovery” phase. Evidence is collected that is relevant to the case before there is any attempt to resolve who, if anyone, is at fault. The contractors have relevant information to the performance of these guardrails, so it would be negligent to not include them in the original lawsuit.
If the construction contractors do wind up pitting themselves against the manufacturer, which is likely, the families of those killed in the accidents have more information and arguments against the manufacturers. That is clearly the main target of this lawsuit in the first place.
The state is committed to replacing these guardrails, which helps the contractors’ defense.
Contractors need to defend themselves
This case highlights how construction contractors can be caught up in a lawsuit for a potentially defective product, even if they do nothing wrong. It is vital that they have proper representation in these cases.
It is a matter of thorough documentation and strategy to navigate a case like this. The stakes are potentially very high when there is loss of life involved. The right representation can make all the difference.