The Massachusetts Department of Transportation has decided to stop the use of a guardrail-end terminal over concerns that there may be safety issues. The rail-end guardrail pieces, known as the ET-Plus, are made by Trinity Industries of Texas. The manufacturer has already have been the subject of products liability lawsuits by motorists claiming they lost their legs in traffic crashes.
This week, a federal jury ruled that Trinity should pay $175 million in a whistleblower lawsuit that exposed the hazards involved with using the guardrail end caps. It was guardrail installer Josh Harman who accused Trinity of making the ET-Plus unsafe when the company redesigned it.
He sued Trinity under the False Claims Act’s qui tam provisions. As the whistleblower, Harman is entitled to a percentage of what is recovered. Because of statutory mandate, the $175 million figure is expected to triple.
ABC News recently reported that according to highway safety experts, highways in nearly every state have been outfitted with the redesigned Trinity guardrail. This means that there are hundreds of thousands of these guardrail parts on U.S. roads.
Trinity redesigned its guardrail in 2005 without notifying the Federal Highway Administration. One of those modifications involved shrinking an integral metal piece by one inch, from five inches to four. A company engineer noted in an internal email that the change would save Trinity approximately $2 dollars a piece. However, according to The Boston Globe, before approving the guardrail for continued use in 2012, a senior Trinity engineer expressed concerns about its safety.
Highway guardrails are supposed to push the steel guard railing away from an incoming car, while slowing the vehicle to a stop. Yet, one cannot deny the serious injuries that have resulted when vehicles have collided with the redesigned Trinity guardrails.
At least five deaths and even more injuries in at least 14 motor vehicle crashes are being blamed on these Trinity guardrails. Rather than cushioning impact, the Trinity-made guardrail end caps reportedly are spearing the vehicle and its occupants.
Trinity, however, told ABC News that it didn’t think an announcement of the change when it redesigned the product was necessary because the modifications did not impact the system’s performance or its maintenance or installation. Yet certain related documents that should have been turned over to the government agency were “inadvertently omitted.” The company maintains that the redesigned guardrail parts meet federal standards and have passed two crash tests.
Other states, including Nevada and Missouri, also recently banned the Trinity guardrails. Although the Federal Highway Administration had accepted Trinity’s claim that the guardrails satisfy safety criteria, letting states use federal money to buy and install the guardrail heads, officials are now demanding that Trinity conduct new crash tests in the wake of the whistleblower verdict.
In Massachusetts, please contact our Boston injury law firm if you suspect that your injuries are a result of crashing into a highway guardrail.
Feds Demand New Crash Tests for Controversial Guardrail After $175M Verdict, ABC News, October 21, 2014
Trinity Industries Whistleblower Awarded $175 Million in Guardrail Suit, The Wall Street Journal, October 20, 2014
States question guardrail safety, The Boston Globe, October 12, 2014
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