Virginia Joins Guardrail LawsuitDecember 12, 2014
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring recently announced that he would join with at least two other states in pursuing a guardrail lawsuit against Trinity Industries. The guardrail lawsuits allege that Trinity sold the states protective highway barriers that have been tied to at least eight fatal crashes. Virginia joins Massachusetts and Florida in suing the company over the ET-Plus barriers, with more states expected to follow.
Guardrail Lawsuit Alleges Poor Design
A major factor in the guardrail lawsuit involves the thickness of the ET-Plus barriers installed on highway shoulders across the country. When state and federal governments initially approved the ET-Plus design in 2005, Trinity’s design specifications stated that the barrier would be five inches thick. The additional thickness would allow the guardrail to absorb the impact and protect the drivers. The guardrail lawsuits allege that, when Trinity delivered the barriers, they were only four inches thick. The design change reportedly caused the barriers to splinter and form spear-like projections, which would penetrate the vehicle in a collision.
Whistle-Blower Sparks Guardrail Lawsuit
The guardrail lawsuits from the states stem from a federal whistle-blower complaint against Trinity. Joshua Harman filed a whistle-blower suit against Dallas-based Trinity, stating that the company defrauded federal and state governments out of millions of dollars in highway funds. The fraud claims that set off the guardrail lawsuit allege that Trinity made false claims about the safety capabilities of the ET-Plus barricades. Trinity could be forced to pay more than $500 million in fines an penalties after a jury in Marshall, Texas, ruled in favor of Mr. Harmon’s claims.
Guardrail Lawsuits Pile Up
The Virginia guardrail lawsuit also marks the fourth whistle-blower case filed against Trinity. The suits allege that Trinity changed the design of its ET-Plus barriers after obtaining the state and federal contracts. Reports have tied the new design to fatal accidents in which the guardrails impaled drivers and passengers. All but eight states have removed the ET-Plus barriers from their highways after the reports surfaced. The company also faces numerous civil guardrail lawsuits stemming from the deaths and injuries associated with the defective barriers.
Testing Underway In Guardrail Lawsuit Claims
Investigators with the Federal Highway Administration have begun testing the new ET-Plus design in response to the guardrail lawsuits. The tests are being conducted at a facility in San Antonio and will measure if the design change is severe enough for the federal government to reimburse the states that installed the ET-Plus barriers. Tony Furst, an associate administrator of the Federal Highway Administration, told reporters that the facility will conduct several tests, but any conclusions will not be available until early 2015.
Sources: Bloomberg , WVEC-TV
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