A federal jury in Marshall, Texas has found that guardrail manufacturer Trinity Industries is guilty of defrauding the federal government by failing to inform the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) about changes it made to its guardrail safety system in 2005. The modified guardrail, used nationwide on federal highways, is known as the ET-Plus, and has been at the center of allegations brought forward by crash victims who experienced a lack of absorption upon vehicular impact. In an effort to save money, Trinity narrowed the channel through which the guard rail is extruded by an inch (5 inches to 4), thereby sometimes causing the guardrail to jam in the channel, impaling the striking vehicle and in some cases, killing passengers.
The case was brought forward by Josh Harman, a competitor of Trinity who sued the company over fraudulent behavior under the False Claims Act, a federal anti-fraud statute that imposes liability on people and companies who defraud governmental programs. Harman’s attorneys brought forward an internal e-mail in which a Trinity official said that the modified design would save the company $2 per guardrail, or $50,000 per year. Trinity also admitted that it “inadvertently omitted” the required design documents that would have notified the government of the change back in 2005. The jury awarded $175 million, which will be tripled to $525 million under federal statutes and split between Harman and the federal government.
Trinity Industries is another corporation in a long line of corporations found guilty of fraud that has ultimately endangered the lives of Americans. The company had a duty to disclose any design changes immediately to the government. What’s alarming is that if Trinity had not sued whistleblower Harman for patent infringement in 2011, the dangerous defect might never have been discovered. Harman discovered the inconsistency while preparing his defense against Trinity’s intellectual property infringement allegations.
In recent months, four states have suspended the use of Trinity’s guardrail systems since allegations of the defect were discovered: Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, and Virginia – with Vermont currently considering halting use of the guardrails as well.
If you or a loved one has been injured or killed by a defective highway guardrail, please contact our experienced highway crash attorneys at Sloan, Bagley, Hatcher & Perry Law Firm at 800-730-0099 to learn more about your rights.
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