A federal jury ruled that a Texas company must pay $175 million in a lawsuit filed by a whistleblower who questioned the safety of highway guardrail systems lining thousands of miles of U.S. roads. Dozens of accidents -- some fatal -- have been reported in cars that have run off the road and collided with guardrails that malfunction and spear the vehicles, according to lawsuits filed against Trinity Industries.
Free Guardrail Lawsuit Evaluation: If you or a loved one has been injured in a guardrail accident, you should contact our law firm immediately. You may be entitled to compensation by filing a suit against the manufacturer of the guardrail and our lawyers can help.
TX Jury Finds Trinity Industries Guilty of Fraud
On October 20, 2014, a federal jury in Marshall, TX found Trinity Industries guilty of defrauding the U.S. government by failing to inform the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) about design changes it made to its guardrail system in 2005. The modified ET-Plus guardrail has been at the center of allegations by crash victims who were injured when the devices locked up and speared through vehicles, rather than ribboning out and absorbing impacts as designed. According to the complaint, Trinity narrowed the channel through which the guardrail extrudes by an inch (5” to 4”), which causes it to jam inside the channel, impaling oncoming vehicles and in some cases, killing motorists.
The lawsuit was filed by whistleblower Josh Harman, a competitor of Trinity who sued the company over fraudulent behavior under the False Claims Act, a federal statute that imposes liability on individuals and companies who defraud government programs. Harman’s attorneys cited an internal email in which a Trinity employee said the modified design of the ET-Plus would save the company $2 per guardrail, or about $50,000 per year. The company also admitted to "inadvertently omitting" documents that would have notified the government of the change in 2005. The jury awarded $175 million, which will be tripled to $525 million under federal law and split between Harman and the U.S. government.
On Dec. 5, Trinity announced that it is seeking a judgment as a matter of law, which the federal government opposes. The company has petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals for a review of the verdict. However, the government claims Trinity “consistently and knowingly misrepresented to the purchasers of the ET-Plus that the product had been approved by the Federal Highway Administration.”
April 30 - Federal prosecutors have subpoenaed 16 years’ worth of documents from Trinity “relating to the ET 2000 and ET-Plus guardrail end-terminal products,” according to ABC News . People familiar with the events said the investigation is focusing, in part, on whether any state or federal highway officials received payments from Trinity to approve use of the modified ET-Plus end terminal.
Feds to Investigate Guardrail Maker
April 23 - The Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation into Trinity’s relationship with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), according to Bloomberg News . According to the report, federal investigators are interviewing potential witnesses and investigators from a special unit of the Justice Department have subpoenaed court documents involving ET-Plus.
Trinity to Pay $663 Million Over Secret Guardrail Design Change
A federal judge has ordered Trinity to pay $663 million in damages for failing to disclose design changes the company made to its ET-Plus guardrail systems, according to NBC News . Joshua Harman, a competitor of Trinity’s who sued the company on behalf of the U.S. government, will receive $199 million plus attorney fees.
Guardrail Crash Test Loophole Closed
May 18 - The FHWA announced today that it has increased regulation over highway guardrail systems, closing a loophole that allowed manufacturers to make changes to older products without performing additional crash tests. Under the new rules, if a manufacturer alters the design of an existing roadside device, it must be crash-tested according to the strictest safety measures, even if the product has been deemed safe in the past under older regulations.
Trinity Guardrails 4x More Likely to Cause Fatal Accident: Study
A September 2014 study released by The Safety Institute entitled “In-Service Evaluation of FHWA-Accepted Guardrail Terminals,”  compared crash performance of the ET-Plus against that of its predecessor, the ET-2000. According to the researchers: “The ET-Plus placed motorists at a higher level of risk of both serious and fatal injuries relative to its predecessor... The overall trend included in the analysis shows that the ET-Plus is 1.45 times more likely to be involved in a severe injury than the ET-2000. More poignantly however, the ET-Plus is 3.95 times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than the ET-2000.”
ABC News Video: Trinity Guardrail Defects
Click on the link below to view an ABC News video reporting on a horrific guardrail accident involving the modified Trinity ET-Plus end terminals:
How Guardrails Should Work
In older guardrails, the feeder chute was 5” wide and over 15” high. The exit chute was 1.5”. Upon impact, the railing should thread through the terminal head and pigtail out the side away from oncoming traffic. To save money, Trinity decreased the size of the terminal head from 5 inches to 4. Harman said with the smaller terminal head, the railing either gets stuck behind the head or acts like a projectile shooting through the car and its passengers inside.
“These changes are resulting in fatalities, injuries,” said Harman, “a guardrail is not supposed to cut a person in half.”
Trinity to Stop Guardrail Shipments
According to Law 360 , Trinity has agreed to stop shipping its guardrail systems until additional safety tests can be performed. “In light of FHWA’s request, the right thing to do is to stop shipping the product until the additional testing has been completed,” said Trinity President Gregg Mitchell.
Trinity Guardrails Banned in More Than 30 States
More than half the country has suspended installation of Trinity Guardrails, according to an ABC News report . Many of the states that have taken action against Trinity say the ban is in place until additional safety tests can be performed. As of Nov. 3, the following states have banned new installations of Trinity highway guardrail systems:
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Dakota
- South Carolina
Trinity Avoids Nationwide Ban with Crash Test Proposal
Trinity has informed the federal government of a plan to re-test the safety of its highway guardrail systems, according to ABC News . FHWA has not yet disclosed details of the plan or a timetable for reviewing it.
Guardrail Safety Tests Underway in San Antonio
Dec. 12, 2014 - Federal and state transportation officials have gathered in San Antonio, TX, to observe safety testing for Trinity’s ET-Plus highway guardrail system. The first tests are scheduled to take place over the next few weeks, and are designed to replicate new-to-market testing performed nearly a decade ago, when the ET-Plus was first introduced.
Trinity Bars Media from Safety Tests
Trinity has said it will not allow media coverage of the new round of federally-mandated crash tests on its guardrails set to begin in late December, according to ABC News . Trinity spokesman Jeff Eller said only representatives of the FHA, state DOTs and the American Association of State Highway Transportation (AASHTO) will be present for the tests, which will take place in San Antonio, TX.
"Visual observations cannot determine the outcome of the tests. These tests are data driven," Eller said. "Therefore it would not be appropriate for media to attend."
Concerns Raised Over Trinity Guardrail Safety Tests
Critics are accusing the Southwest Research Center of performing unrealistic safety tests on Trinity highway guardrails. “They’re not testing the impact conditions that are generating the problems and producing injuries and fatalities that we’re seeing on highways,” said Dean Sicking, an engineer at the University of Birmingham who helped develop an early version of the Trinity ET Guardrail.
Virginia Sues Trinity Over Guardrail Design Change
The Commonwealth of Virginia has announced that it is suing Trinity over the sale of thousands of allegedly defective guardrail systems, according to the New York Times . The complaint accuses the company of fraud, deceit, and the sale of “unapproved products that had not been properly tested to ensure they would keep motorists safe.”
Senator Urges Feds to Review “Dangerous” Guardrails
Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says the federal government should investigate whether defective highway guardrails have been installed along upstate New York roadways. On October 27, 2014, Schumer wrote a letter to the FWHA asking for a review of where the guardrails are located so they can be replaced. Schumer says there are likely thousands of guardrails in the upstate area that could pierce vehicles and injure or even kill their occupants.
Guardrail Safety Test Failed: Engineering Expert
A document filed with a federal judge in Texas by an engineering expert claims that the Trinity ET-Plus guardrail end terminal failed the last of its 8 crash tests in San Antonio on Jan. 27. The expert, Brian Coon, said the device failed when it punctured the driver-side door of a compact car.
“In my opinion, the January 27, 2015, test of the ET-Plus guardrail end terminal failed NCHRP Report 350 Criteria D, “Deformations of, or intrusions into, the occupant compartment that could cause serious injuries should not be permitted,'” Coon said in his affidavit. “The deformation of the driver’s side door in the January 27 crash test not only could have caused disabling injuries, but showed a propensity to penetrate the vehicle and cause devastating injuries. This was a clear failure under NCHRP Report 350 guidelines.”
Trinity Kicks Off Vegas Lobbying Blitz
Feb. 20 - Last month, Trinity held a posh lobbing campaign at the Four Seasons Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip in an attempt to salvage its reputation, according to the New York Times . Since Joshua Harman filed his whistleblower lawsuit against Trinity in 2012, the company has become quite generous to political causes, contributing $300,000 to the Democratic Attorneys General Association and the Republican Attorneys General Association, after not donating in the 2 previous years.
Securities Class Action Lawsuit
May 27 - A class action lawsuit has been filed against Trinity Industries on behalf of investors who purchased or otherwise acquired the guardrail maker’s securities between February 16, 2012 and April 29, 2015. The complaint alleges that Trinity violated sections 10(b) and 20(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, made false and/or misleading statements, and failed to disclose that it made design changes to its ET-Plus guardrail system in 2005 without notifying the FHWA.
Guardrails Piercing Cars
- A Tennessee mother died in 2008 when a Trinity guardrail cut through the front of her SUV.
- In January 2010, a New York woman lost her right leg after a guardrail penetrated her driver’s side door in an accident.
- Also in 2010, a guardrail in Florida pierced the floorboard of a pickup truck, slicing through the leg of an 18-year-old passenger.
- 2012 - Family’s vehicle careens into a guardrail in NY, punctures the wheel well into the back seat, pinning a 2-year-old boy.
- January 2014 - An accident in North Carolina involving the ET-Plus end terminal left the driver a double amputee. Jay Traylor was driving his SUV when he fell asleep, veered off of the interstate and slammed head-on into a guardrail. Instead of the end terminal acting as an energy absorber as it should have, the guardrail sliced through the floorboard into the driver's seat. Traylor's right leg was severed in the accident, and doctors later had to remove his mangled left leg. Traylor's attorney claimed the guardrail was "defective and unreasonably dangerous," according to court documents.
Do I Have a Highway Guardrail Lawsuit?
The Product Liability Litigation Group at our law firm is an experienced team of trial lawyers that focus on the representation of plaintiffs in Highway Guardrail Lawsuits. We are handling individual litigation nationwide and currently accepting new guardrail injury and death cases in all 50 states.
Free Highway Guardrail Lawsuit Evaluation: Again, if you or a loved one has been injured in a guardrail accident, you should contact our law firm immediately. You may be entitled to compensation by filing a Guardrail Suit and our lawyers can help.