This summer, automotive and product design safety company, Safety Research & Strategies, filed suit against the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), seeking the public release of documents in the case of United States ex rel. Harman v. Trinity Industries. The whistleblower lawsuit alleges guardrail manufacturer Trinity Industries defrauded the government. The Wall Street Journal reports court records remain inaccessible.
Dallas-based company Trinity Industries manufactures metal guardrails for highways. In 1999, Trinity developed its first version of the ET-Plus guardrail. Beginning in 2005, the company allegedly made design changes, in order to save on manufacturing costs. Without informing the FHWA for approval, which is required by federal law, ABC News reports that Trinity modified the ET-Plus guardrail, decreasing the width and height of the end terminal of the guardrail by one inch. This small change to the guardrail design has had a significant and adverse impact for drivers involved in accidents on our highways.
According to Bloomberg Businessweek, Joshua Harman first filed a claim against Trinity Industries and their defective highway guardrail design after viewing the aftermath of an accident off a North Carolina interstate. Driving 80 miles per hour, Darius Williams lost control of his Nissan Sentra and slammed into the guardrail, leaving him in intensive care.
Harman’s lawsuit reportedly alleges that because of the new and smaller guardrail design, a section of the guardrail pierced through the car door. Rather than bending the guardrail end terminal away from the automobile upon impact in an energy-absorbing end terminal design, Trinity’s new design of the ET-Plus, according to Harman’s lawsuit, results in the guardrail locking up and sometimes spearing the vehicle.
Williams’ accident isn’t the only case linked to this kind of guardrail failure. Numerous personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits have been filed against Trinity Industries based on the alleged defective design of its guardrails.
“I’ve got widows who have lost husbands. I’ve got mothers who have had their children butchered. I’ve got a Marine that cut both his legs off. It’s unacceptable,” stated Harman to Q13Fox News, “[The guardrail] will slice through the front bumper, radiator, and frame, crumple zone, go straight through car seats, people, individuals. Just like a hot knife through butter.”
UPDATE: On October 19, 2014, a federal jury in Texas found that Trinity Industries defrauded the U.S. government of $175 million by not reporting its new highway guardrail design changes to the Federal Highway Administration as required by law. As noted by the New York Times, the Texas jury awarded $525 million (the $175 million tripled under federal law) to the United States Treasury, making the verdict the third largest jury award in the U.S. this year.
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If you or a family member have been injured in a guardrail accident, we invite you to contact a personal injury attorney at Lieff Cabraser, no obligation for a free review of your case.
By Fabrice Vincent.