Federal highway safety regulators have ordered independent tests to be carried out on guardrail systems made by Trinity Highway Products LLC early next year after the company lost a federal whistleblower trial in October. Whistleblower Joshua Harman sued Trinity in 2012, alleging the manufacturer secretly modified the design of its ET-Plus guardrail systems nearly a decade ago in ways that made them more cost effective but dangerously defective. Hundreds of thousands of the allegedly defective ST-Plus guardrail systems have been installed along highways in just about every state.
On Oct. 20, a federal court jury in Texas sided with Mr. Harman and ordered Trinity to pay the U.S. $175 million in restitution. Under the U.S. False Claims Act, that amount will automatically triple to $525 million. Mr. Harman alleged that Trinity defrauded the government by altering the design of a widely used guardrail system in 2005 after it had already been approved by federal regulators. The company, he said, failed to tell regulators about the changes.
Mr. Harman claimed that the alterations caused the guardrails to “throat lock” upon impact instead of crumpling upon itself to ease the vehicle to a stop. According to court documents, the alleged defect caused the guardrail “to double over on itself or protrude through the crashing vehicle” like a giant spear. Mr. Harman said that he was personally aware of people being killed in collisions with the ET-Plus guardrail systems in Kentucky Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
The Federal Highway Administration has stood by the guardrail systems despite the changes, saying that they still qualified for government reimbursement. After the trial, the same authorities chose to put the guardrails back to the test. Testing will be conducted at an independent lab in San Antonio in mid-January. The results are expected by the end of February. Should the guardrails fail the planned tests, the federal government will stop reimbursing states that use the guardrails, which Trinity quit selling after the October verdict.
Trinity strongly disputes the jury verdict in Texas. Judge Rodney Gilstrap has ordered the company and Mr. Harman to mediate and try to reach a settlement. They will appear before Duke University law professor Francis McGovern before the end of the year to mediate.
Sources: Law 360, Associated Press, Mediate.com
Contact us today for a free legal consultation with an experienced attorney.
Fields marked *may be required for submission.
If you would like to subscribe to the Jere Beasley Report digital edition, simply visit our Subscriptions page and provide the necessary information or call us at 800-898-2034.
Attorney Advertising - Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.