Guardrail Company Responsible for Deaths Ordered to Pay $175 Million

Trinity Highway Products will have to pay about $175 million for selling dangerous guardrails that are linked to dozens of deaths and injuries. The ET-Plus guardrail systems were the focus of a whistleblower lawsuit, where a former employee accused Trinity of fraud for selling these rails to the US government. Auto accident attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm remind the public that any injuries suffered from defective auto or roadway parts may be eligible for compensation.

The initial lawsuit against Trinity was actually brought by a private citizen, Joshua Harmon, who had knowledge of dangerous alterations Trinity made to its ET-Plus guardrails. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) approved a previous version of the guardrails and cleared them for installation without knowledge of the faulty redesigns.

This misrepresentation took place over a period of three years, during which time the federal government paid hundreds of millions of dollars for unsafe guardrails. Hundreds of thousands of ET-Plus systems were installed throughout the country in those three years, and more than 30 states have now banned them completely.

The federal government joined in the whistleblower’s lawsuit, bringing the case before a jury in Texas. Taking just three hours to decide, the jury sided with the whistleblower, accusing Trinity of misrepresenting the modified ET-Plus and defrauding the government. In a statement, Trinity said that it respected the jury’s decision of a $175 million fine. The judge in this case said the evidence of Trinity’s deception was overwhelming. He also accused the president of Trinity of trying to intimidate a witness so they would not appear in the court.

Most of this money will go to replacing the hundreds of thousands of ET-Plus guardrails. In cases prompted by a whistleblower, a percentage of the resulting settlement or verdict goes to the person who first filed the claim, in this case Joshua Harmon. Whistleblowers typically receive between 15 – 30% of the verdict, so he is likely to receive a substantial amount for reporting Trinity’s fraud.

Trinity has stopped shipping its ET-Plus System while it conducts additional testing. The Systems were initially designed and tested at Texas A&M Transportation Institute and approved by the federal government. The guardrails were then redesigned in 2005. The modified guardrails displayed “throat lock” when a vehicle crashed into them, which means that the guardrail would double-over onto itself or through the crashing vehicle. This “throat lock” defect acted as a spear going through cars, seriously injuring and killing drivers and passengers.

National Attention

The whistleblower stated that he was personally aware of several deaths that occurred in this manner, specifically in Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. He has seen dozens of accidents involving the post-2005 guardrails, and in no case did it function properly. The New York Times recently published an article on these guardrails.

In the profile, the Times investigate the internal communications between Trinity and the government, along with special spotlights on actual victims of these guardrail accidents. According to these documents, the safety issues surrounding these guardrails were first expressed in the beginning of 2012, when engineers expressed hesitation about the new modifications, saying it was difficult “to ignore the fatal results.”

The victim profiled in the article is a 24-year-old man who suffered multiple injuries in an accident when a guardrail malfunctioned, piercing through his car door. The guardrail broke through his arm, pelvis, leg, eye socket, and spine. This in-depth article about the case against Trinity, including interviews with those closes to the issue, can be read here.

Our team of auto accident attorneys has been working on these cases for over 30 years. We work with severely injured victims whose injuries were caused by the negligence others; in this case, Trinity Industries. If you or someone you love was hurt in an accident, contact our firm immediately. We provide free legal consultations to potential clients in all 50 states.

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