Evidence indicates that Federal Highway Administration officials ignored complaints about Trinity Industry, Inc. guardrail dangers. While these U.S. safety officials publicly and vigorously defended the guardrail system’s crashworthiness, they secretly transmitted internal emails that indicated that they had grave concerns that they were killing and maiming motorists on American highways.
The FHWA is responsible for ensuring the public’s safety on the roadways across the nation. States rely upon the agency’s certifications to determine which products are safe to use. In fact, the federal programs reimburse states for highway expenses only if they use those products certified by the Department of Transportation to be crashworthy. When the FHWA removes or revokes certification, states typically stop using that product, and so giving the federal agency tremendous power to affect safety measures in every state in the country. In addition, the American public trusts the agency to look out for our interests. FHWA officials violated that sacred trust with tragic results.
Emails Indicate Agency Officials’ Knowledge and Doubts
Beginning in 2012, Nick Artimovich, an engineer with the Federal Highway
Administration, received several emails from a whistleblower’s
attorneys, state officials and other stakeholders about the design
alterations the company made to its ET-Plus guardrails. These emails reveal the agency’s awareness about the possible risks and
actions taken to help Trinity Industriies protect itself.
According to Bloomberg Businessweek,
Mr. Artimovich sent an email to a state official defending Trinity as
having a good track record. He also warned a Trinity consultant about
the allegations brought by the whistleblower that the company had made a second unauthorized design change.
Joshua Harman, had discovered the design change in January of 2012 while
defending himself against patent infringement allegations in a lawsuit
filed by Trinity Industries. He alerted Mr. Artimovich, who then shared
the information with Trinity. Mr. Artimovich even forwarded to the
company Mr. Harman’s presentation about the risks. In an email to a
Trinity VP, Mr. Artimovich emphasizes his concern about the existence of guardrails that do not conform to the crash-tested design.
Artimovich also proclaimed that his “customers” included “both the
industry and the driving public.” Maybe this explains why he saw nothing wrong with giving heads-up to a company accused of violating the law.
Perhaps one of the most shocking emails was his response to a developer of the
ET-Plus predecessor guardrail design. Dean Sicking wrote to Mr.
Artimovich, expressing surprise when he read that the new design had not been tested or gained FHWA approval. Mr. Artimovich responded that
although additional crash tests of the modified ET-Plus had performed as expected, “it’s hard to ignore the fatal results.”
FHWA’s Inaction Allowed Trinity Enormous Profits Until …
For more than two years after the roadway hazard came to light, Trinity
continued to sell the defective guardrails and earn millions more in
profits because of the federal agency’s certification.
But, this past October, justice was finally served. A Texas jury rendered a $175 million verdict against Trinity
for the amount the federal government paid to states for using the
ET-Plus product since 2006. To date, at least 36 states have stopped buying the ET-Plus terminals and Virginia has begun to remove them from its roadways. Also, dozens of injured drivers have filed lawsuits against Trinity.
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