December 15, 2014 — The attorney general in Virginia has filed a lawsuit against Trinity Industries, seeking reimbursement for the cost of removing and replacing thousands of highway guardrails if crash-tests find them to be defective.
Those crash-tests began last week in San Antonio, Texas. They are being conducted by a former business partner of Trinity, although Trinity insists they are no longer paying the company royalties.
State officials from Virginia were allowed to visually observe the crash tests, but they were not permitted to photograph or videotape the tests. They were also not allowed to measure the guardrails before the tests to double-check that they were actually the modified end-terminals linked to horrific crashes. The modified ET-Plus is 1-inch narrower than the original.
Only federal highway officials were provided access to measure the guardrails.
Virginian officials also asked Trinity to test guardrails that were actually installed on highways. Instead, Trinity is testing guardrail end-terminals that came from the California Department of Transportation.
Although Trinity initially stated that they would not allow members of the media to observe the tests, they will actually allow to observers — one from Local 2 News in Houston. However, that observer will not be allowed to photograph, videotape, or measure the tests.
In October 2014, a jury in Texas awarded $175 million in a whistleblower lawsuit after finding Trinity guilty of defrauding the federal government by failing to disclose design changes to the ET-Plus sometime in 2005.
Those changes allegedly make the “shock-absorbing” guardrail more likely to lock up and impale oncoming vehicles. Several people have died or suffered major limb amputations.
If the modified ET-Plus is found to be defective, the costs of locating, removing, and replacing the guardrails would likely fall on Trinity and the federal government. Those costs could be quite high — thousands of miles of roadway would have to be visually inspected because no one knows exactly where the defective end-terminals were installed.
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