October 21, 2014 — A jury in Texas has found that Trinity Industries defrauded the federal government by concealing design changes on its highway guardrails, potentially resulting in thousands of defective and dangerous guardrails installed throughout the United States.
The federal trial in Marshall, Texas ended with a jury award of $175 million, but under federal law, the award will be tripled to $525 million. The government will split the award with Joshua Harman, the whistleblower who filed the lawsuit in 2012. Total liability could reach $1 billion, according to Bloomberg.
Trinity says their failure to disclose design changes to the Federal Highway Administration was unintentional and the jury’s “decision cannot and will not withstand legal scrutiny.” They have vowed to appeal.
The jury did not decide whether the guardrails were defective. That question may be answered as 14 additional lawsuits proceed against Trinity. Those cases involve people who were injured, including five people who died after crashing into the guardrails.
Lawsuits allege that Trinity modified the design of the ET-Plus guardrail end-cap in 2005, reducing the size of the feeder chute in a way that made the guardrail more likely to jam up and impale oncoming cars in head-on collisions.
According to the New York Times, trial attorneys presented evidence that Trinity may have misled safety officials. In 2006, a letter to state officials in Vermont stated that the ET-Plus was identical to the system that was approved by state and federal agencies. During testimony, the president of Trinity’s highway products subsidiary told the jury that he thought this statement was true at the time, but now believes it was inaccurate.
Joshua Harman, the whistleblower, discovered the design modifications after his competing guardrail-installing business was bankrupted in a patent dispute with Trinity. He alleges that the changes saved about $2 in materials per guardrail and made them impossible to reuse. During the trial, he also claimed that Trinity concealed five failed crash-tests involving the guardrail.
The Federal Highway Administration is now considering whether to stop approving reimbursements for the ET-Plus. The states of Missouri, Nevada, Massachusetts, and Virginia have stopped buying and installing the guardrails. An estimated 500,000 remain installed on millions of miles of highways throughout the country.
Do I have a Guardrail Injury Lawsuit?
The Schmidt Firm, PLLC is currently accepting highway guardrail induced injury cases in all 50 states. If you or somebody you know has been injured by the ET-Plus, you should contact our lawyers immediately for a free case consultation. Please use the form below to contact our Product Liability Litigation Group or call toll free 24 hours a day at (866) 920-0753.
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