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More Controversy Appears in Case Questioning Highway Guardrail Safety

A mistrial has been declared in a federal lawsuit which alleges that some highway guardrails across the country pose a deadly risk to drivers.

The lawsuit was filed by a whistleblower alleging that guardrails produced by Trinity Industries, a Texas-based guardrail manufacturer, are malfunctioning and killing drivers. The lawsuit further charges that the guardrail defect is the result of a product change that the company hid from the government and safety inspectors.

The judge dismissed the case over what he found to be “inappropriate conduct” on both sides, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal. The judge suggested that representatives from Trinity Industries may have tampered with witnesses. Further, the judge found that the whistleblower and plaintiff, Joshua Harman, may have destroyed evidence.

Since Harman has come forward with the charge of a product defect, numerous accident victims have claimed that guardrails malfunctioned, causing injury or death. A recent article by Bloomberg News noted that at least nine lawsuits have been filed by victims claiming personal injury or wrongful death caused by the guardrail malfunction.

The danger, according to Harman, is the end-cap on some of the guard rails. Allegedly, an impact plate that is meant to absorb energy and move along with the car can instead malfunction and pierce through the car, grievously injuring those inside.

Trinity Industries denies that any secret change was made to the guardrails. The company acknowledges that a change was made, but it insists that all regulatory bodies were appropriately informed and that all necessary safety testing was performed. The company also insists that the guardrails function properly, and it has not recalled any of the hundreds of thousands of implicated guardrails that currently line highways across the United States.

The case in question is Harman v. Trinity Industries, 2:12-cv-00089, in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District TX.

Studies Show Plastic Gas Cans Pose Risk of Explosion

They are as ubiquitous in American garages and gas stations as automobiles. Unfortunately, they may also be, in at least one respect, just as susceptible to unfortunate accidents. Scientists say that the common plastic gas can sold throughout the United States carries the potential for fiery explosion — and most Americans are probably unaware that the portable vessels could even pose such a hazard.

In tests conducted by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), scientists found that, under certain circumstances, gas vapor blends can ignite within portable cans and cause significant injury to those in the vicinity of the explosion.

CPSC has documented 11 deaths and 1,200 emergency room visits linked to gas can explosions during the pouring of gasoline since 1998.

Additional tests conducted at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s combustion laboratory demonstrated that, under limited conditions, a so-called “flashback” explosion can occur inside plastic gas cans.

A flashback explosion can be triggered even when a very small amount of gasoline is left in the can. Gas vapor can escape the container and meet a ignition source, such as a flame or a spark. The igniting vapor outside the can then “flashes back” inside the container, which ignites the mixture within it and causes a large burst of flames.

There have been at least 80 lawsuits filed in the last 20 years on behalf of plaintiffs injured in gas can explosions. The primary argument has been that the portable cans are “dangerous” and “unsafe” because they are “susceptible” to these flashback explosions. The bulk of the lawsuits have targeted Blitz USA, the biggest maker of plastic gas cans, as defendants, as well as Wal-Mart, the leading purveyor of the cans.

Central to the argument is the fact that the can’s design does not include a flame arrester. Lawsuits against Blitz have contended that they, if included, would prevent flashback explosions. Flame arresters, which are pieces or mesh or disks with holes designed to disrupt flames, are present in “safety” gas cans made of metal and in storage vessels of other flammable liquids.

CPSC has called on the gas can industry to manufacture gas cans with flame arresters within them. “CPSC believes that this technology also should be included in gasoline containers,” said the agency in a statement. “CPSC is calling on the industry to regain the momentum that was lost in years past by designing their products to include this safety technology. In addition, CPSC is asking voluntary standards organizations to incorporate a flame arrestor system into applicable safety standards for gas cans.”

At Some Texas Schools, Student Athletes Lack Crucial Catastrophic Care Insurance

High school sports, especially football, are a hallowed tradition in Texas. School districts in the state regularly set aside significant portions of their budgets for athletic programs.

Government purse strings may be loose for the sports programs themselves, but spending on medical insurance for student athletes is checkered at best in some of Texas’ metropolitan regions.

The risk of injury, including catastrophic injury, always hangs over high school sports events, particularly the rougher contact sports (including football). Many school districts provide catastrophic care insurance for students who experience serious accidents or illnesses while competing in school-sponsored sports. Policies typically carry high coverage ceilings in the millions of dollars to cover such life-changing events as brain or spinal cord injuries.

But catastrophic care insurance is not mandatory in Texas. Within the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan region, there are five school districts that do not provide coverage for catastrophic injury: Birdville, Burleson, Cedar Hill, Mansfield and Richardson.

When students do not have catastrophic coverage through their family insurance policies, the lack of a school district’s safety net can prove financially ruinous. Medical costs for the families of student athletes who suffer major injuries while competing can be staggering. With some school athletic program officials estimating that up to 65 percent of Dallas’ student athletes lack family health insurance, the ability to fall back on school-district-provided insurance can be crucial.

In the United States, there have been 468 nonfatal injuries that resulted in permanent, severe functional disability of high school athletes between 1982 and 2011. While catastrophic high school sports injuries are uncommon, the costs associated with them are enormous.

As an example, it has been estimated that the first-year cost of care for a patient with partial or total loss of the use of all limbs stands at $1,044,197. The cost of care for subsequent years rises by $181,328 annually.

By comparison, the cost of catastrophic care coverage is extremely small. Some insurance agents peg the cost of a policy at no more than $2,000 per year for the average school district.

“It’s incredible how many Texas kids have no insurance,” said Kent Holbert, an insurance agent for Texas Student Resources. “I certainly think [catastrophic care insurance] is a minute cost compared to some of the other budgetary items they have.”