Our auto accident lawyers recently reported on a judgement against Trinity Highway Products, the company responsible for thousands of defective and deadly guardrails installed throughout the country. That judgement was recently tripled – to $663.4 million – in light of new evidence that the company defrauded the government and put public lives in danger.
This is the first of many lawsuits against Trinity to go to trial. The original verdict, which we wrote about in November 2014, set off a national firestorm when a jury in Texas found Trinity guilty of defrauding the federal government.
Trinity was found liable for failing to get approval for changes made to these guardrails in 2005 and consequently selling defective guardrails. These design defects were discovered by Joshua Harman, a competitor who uncovered the hidden changes in 2011. He ultimately filed the fraud lawsuit against Trinity, acting as a whistleblower for the federal government.
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Whistleblowers can be anyone with knowledge that a person or company is defrauding the government. If their lawsuit is successful, the whistleblower is entitled to a certain percentage of the settlement or verdict. In this case, Harmon received 30% of the verdict, in the sum of $218 million. More information on whistleblower lawsuits can be found here, on our website.
Trinity changed the ET-Plus design in 2005, intentionally hiding this information from the government which approved them for installation on national highways. After Harmons complaint was filed in 2012 it quickly became clear that these guardrails were causing injuries and deaths throughout the country.
By changing the dimensions of the ET-Plus, the guardrails became ineffective at protecting drivers and passengers. Instead of absorbing the impact of a crash as guardrails are meant to do, the ET-Plus would jam and spear through vehicles, impaling those inside. To date, more than a dozen injury lawsuits have been filed against the company, including five wrongful death claims.
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Dozens of states have banned the ET-Plus and Trinity has stopped its sales. Agents from the FBI and the Department of Transportation have launched a criminal investigation into the matter. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), however, has been noticeably absent during the trial and its consequent investigations and injury claims.
Each state is responsible for choosing their own highway equipment, however the FHWA decides which products are eligible for federal reimbursement. Companies like Trinity, then, submit their products and crash safety data to the FHWA for approval. States that install FHWA-approved equipment are then reimbursed for the expense. This is intended to keep our national highways consistently safe.
The FHWA refused to join Harmon in his lawsuit against Trinity, however, and showed marked hostility toward the whistleblower throughout trial. The agency believed the ET-Plus to be fully compliant with federal safety regulations even after it learned of the design changes in 2012.
When the Texas jury returned the fraud verdict against Trinity in late 2014, the FWHA requested that Trinity perform additional crash tests for the ET-Plus. In March 2015, the FWHA announced the guardrails passed eight crash tests. The agency also stated it would evaluate the judges opinion and verdict.
Our team of auto accident attorneys is currently accepting cases of serious injury and death from ET-Plus guardrails. If you or someone you love was in an accident involving a defective guardrail, contact our firm immediately for a free consultation. We have our own team of investigators who will determine the facts of your case.