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New Lawsuits Over Controversial Type Of Guardrails

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CBS News CBS News
WASHINGTON -

The families of three people killed in crashes last year involving a controversial type of guardrail filed lawsuits Wednesday in Tennessee.

In one case, dashcam footage shows a red SUV that Wilbert Byrd was riding in slamming into an X-Lite guardrail in Tennessee. Instead of collapsing backward, the guardrail splinters and sends metal ripping through the vehicle, killing the 69-year-old driver.

Byrd's death is one of at least seven in three states linked to X-Lite guardrails.

Ladeana Gambill's daughter Lauren and her friend, Jacob Davison, died one year ago this week after their vehicle hit an X-Lite guardrail that pierced the car.

"Losing a child is just the most horrific thing that anyone can imagine," Gambill told CBS News.

"To think that she died senselessly -- that's why we want to bring awareness to this issue," Gambill said, "So that other folks don't lose their children in this manner."

Video from Lindsay Transportation Systems, which makes the X-Lite guardrail, shows how it's supposed to work, telescoping backward to help absorb an impact.

Instead, the Tennessee Department of Transportation found in some high-speed crashes that the first section of rail can separate, allowing the next section to potentially spear a vehicle.

The state sent a letter to federal regulators expressing concerns about the device, and is spending millions to remove all 1,800 of them from Tennessee roads.

Most are in these seven states: West Virginia, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Maryland, Texas, North Carolina and Virginia.

"Unfortunately because of the design defects that's in this system, it is causing just horrendous damage and deaths," Gambill's attorney, Ted Leopold, said.

Federal regulators say nine states have stopped buying or started replacing the devices.

Lindsay Transportation Solutions, which manufactures the X-Lite guardrail, released a statement to CBS News saying the claims are "without merit" and that "X-Lite has successfully passed crash and safety tests in accordance with federal standards." The statement says: 

"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. Just last month, the Federal Highway Administration examined available end terminal performance data and found no reason to conclude that the devices reviewed, including the X-Lite, are unsafe. The equipment's inability to singly prevent every tragedy does not indicate a flaw or defect. There are a variety of factors that contribute to the severity of impact in any instance, such as excessive speed, the angle at which a vehicle makes impact, and whether the equipment was installed and maintained properly."

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) also issued a statement saying safety is the top priority:

"Safety is the top priority of the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration, and we remain committed to working toward zero deaths on our nation's roads ... Within days of learning about the actions/concerns from Tennessee DOT and to ensure that all states were aware of the issue, FHWA contacted all 50 states (as well as D.C. and Puerto Rico) and related associations to gather information on the use and performance of X-Lite guardrails. These efforts are in addition to FHWA's ongoing work to collect more data on guardrail safety and to track the status of their in-service performance evaluations. To support these efforts, we dedicated a website to provide states the opportunity to share information with each other about the performances of all types of roadside hardware across many manufacturers. The site also provides states and the public with the latest training and tools to monitor performance, including installation and maintenance training for guardrails. 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."

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