Highway Guardrail

Injury Caused by Collision with Highway Guardrail

Andrew Mendlin Blog

Who is responsible for injuries to a driver and his or her passengers when that driver crashes his or her vehicle into a freeway guardrail?  One might assume that the driver is responsible since he or she may have negligently driven his or her car into the guardrail or the driver of another motor vehicle that forced the injured driver’s vehicle into the guardrail.  However, other people, businesses and governmental agencies may bear fault and those persons and entities need to be investigated as well as the driver.  

California is a comparative fault State.  That means that a jury or judge assigns a percentage of fault to each person or entity that bears responsibility for the harm.  In this case, the injured driver’s lawyer should analyze whether the injured driver did drive negligently, i.e. did the driver drive too fast and lose control of his or her vehicle;  did the driver’s car have mechanical problems, such as a failed braking system; or was the driver operating his or her vehicle under the influence of alcohol, illicit drugs or prescribed pharmaceuticals.  After the attorney investigates these issues, the attorney should then also review whether any other persons or entities bear responsibility.  For example, does the injured driver’s vehicle exhibit damage evidencing that it was struck by another car and pushed into the guardrail?  The attorney may need to hire an accident reconstruction expert to determine the vehicle positions, speeds and forces.  

The attorney should also review the guardrail itself.  Over the last decade or more, cities, counties and States have worked to eliminate motor vehicle accidents whereby a car crosses a median and is struck by oncoming traffic.  However, the guardrail’s materials and design may be too dangerous for motorists.  Recently, a family of a San Diego man sued X-Lite based on allegations that it manufactured a dangerous guard rail system.  They claim their family member was killed when his vehicle crashed into the X-Lite guardrail.  Other States have examined their guardrail systems and have found that the guardrail ends can act as a spear and penetrate a vehicle.  These States and the Federal Government have either replaced their guardrails or modified their guardrail systems.  (See https://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/13/business/highway-guardrail-may-be-deadly-states-say.html)  Federal and State transportation agencies publish standards for highway guardrails which lawyers and traffic engineering experts should review.  (See https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/guardrailsafety/guardrailbasics.cfm)  

In California, a governmental agency, such as the California Department of Transportation, better known as Cal Trans, is liable to injured motorists and passengers if it creates a dangerous highway condition and if the agency is not protected by immunity under the law.  Therefore, even if a private manufacturer of a guardrail system may be held liable to those injured by a defective guardrail, the defective guardrail may also create liability for the governmental agency in charge of the highway’s condition and design. Governmental agencies sometimes contend that even if a road or highway is dangerous, the agency is not responsible to compensate someone for his or her injuries since the agency has governmental immunity, i.e. a shield against such claim or suit. 

At Curtis Legal Group, we understand California’s comparative fault system.  We know that accidents may sometimes require an analysis of guardrail systems and other factors creating dangerous conditions for drivers.  We also understand that governmental agencies may claim that they are protected from claims and suits.  We fight against these defenses so that our clients get justice.

Call us at 1(800) LAW-3080 today!