Did Cheaper Guardrails & Dallas Company’s Fraud Cause Deaths?

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The second trial started today in federal court in Marshall in a fascinating whistleblower suit against Trinity Industries. The first ended in a mistrial in July after the judge accused a top company official of witness tampering and perjury and admonished the plaintiffs for gamesmanship in a high stakes lawsuit.
Joshua Harman, a self-described safety advocate and certified guardrail installer from Virginia, filed suit under the False Claims Act. He alleged that the giant Dallas-based manufacturer dangerously altered the way in which highway guardrails function. As a result, they do not properly collapse after impact, but instead act as sharp spears that can easily pierce the body of a automobile — and the bodies of the occupants inside. 
Two states have already banned these guardrails and others are considering doing so. Texas had not yet made a decision — but should also do so. A woman named Lisa Antonicelli suffered a seizure when she was driving in Dallas, crashed into a guardrail, and is now a paraplegic. Others have been seriously injured after their vehicles crashed into these guardrails.
UPDATE ON 10-15-14  Virginia has announced that it will ban these guardrails and have them removed.
A university study has found that almost three times as many people are likely to be killed in collisions after their vehicles hit a Trinity guardrail. State highway departments — and attorneys and companies across the country —  are closely monitoring this trial. The implications are enormous.
One Inch of Steel — Saving $2.00 — Has Changed Victims’ Lives Forever

Before being installed on highways across the country in 1999, the guardrail design was vigorously tested and proven to work, even if it was hit head-on at high speed. Trinity followed the design formulated by Texas A&M engineers for the first few years. But in 2005, Trinity reduced the width of ET-Plus end terminal of the guardrail by one inch, a seemingly minor change that has had devastating consequences. 

The design change is apparently responsible for multiple deaths and multiple injuries from hundreds of wrecks, including amputated legs and internal organ damage, plaintiffs’ lawyers claim. In February, a man’s legs were sheered from him in a crash in North Carolina. At least ten plaintiffs and their surviving families have already sued Trinity.

ABC 20/20 uncovered Trinity’s internal email that stated cutting one inch off the ET-Plus saved the company $2.00 per unit.  “That’s $50,000 a year and $250,000 in 5 years by using the 4″ channel,” the memo reads.

This sounds like GM’s refusal to pay 57 cents to fix the defective ignition switch in its vehicles, leading to thousands of injuries and several hundred deaths, when another major corporation chose to put profits over safety.

Did the Company Hide the Problem?

Manufacturers of roadway materials are required to report changes in designs to the
Federal Highway Administration. This allows the transportation agency to determine whether the alterations affect safety. Trinity did not
disclose the 2005 changes it made to the guardrails, the plaintiff alleges, and has presented false claims to the federal government amounting to several hundred million dollars. This figure that could be trebled if he is successful, in addition to an award for attorney’s fees. Harman might receive as much as 30% of that amount.

In fact,
the redesign only came to light when Trinity sued Harman, a competing
manufacturer, for patent infringement in 2011. The defendant in the
patent lawsuit discovered the unreported redesign while reviewing
specifications the company had submitted to the federal government in
preparation of a patent infringement defense. The defendant immediately
reported his discovery to the FHA. The case was settled out of court for a confidential amount. Trinity also sued Harman for defamation and sought an injunction to silence his claims.

These Defective Guardrails Remain on the Highways Across the U.S. 

The federal government has not removed these dangerous defective guardrails to date, putting drivers at continued risks of catastrophic injuries
and death. There are an estimated one half million miles of defective Trinity
guardrails on U. S. highways  The Safety Institute
is conducting independent studies about the safety risks that may
prompt action by federal and state officials to force removal of these dangerous
obstacles on our nation’s roads.

The Trial

Each side again has 13 hours to present its testimony. The case could be concluded by the end of the week. Plaintiff’s attorneys are from the law firm led by well-known New York attorney David Boies, perhaps best known for representing Al Gore at the end of the 2000 presidential election, and from the firm led by John Ward, the former judge of the court.

The sum of $1 billion may be at stake. The plaintiff’s attorney told the jury this morning that Trinity owed the government $219 million. Trinity has annual revenues of $4.4 billion a year, about 10% from the sale of guardrails in all 50 states as well as from other highway materials.
The defendant filed a slew of last-minute motions, including an emergency appeal to the Fifth Circuit challenging the plaintiff’s standing to bring suit on behalf of the federal government. Judge Rodney Gilstrap has not ruled on these motions.

The lawsuit is Joshua Harman, on behalf of the United States vs. Trinity Industries, Inc., 2:12-cv-00089.

Were You Injured in a Highway Accident? 


If you were seriously injured or lost your loved one because of a defective guardrail, call our Dallas-Fort Worth personal injury law firm at 817-885-8000 or toll-free at 1-888-801-8585 to schedule a free case evaluation.

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