Guardrails are supposed to be there for our safety. Guardrails can help prevent an out-of-control vehicle from falling over a cliff and keeps vehicles away from opposing traffic.
Trinity Industries installed guardrails on highways across the country in 1999. State and federal agencies bought the guardrails based upon the results of successful extensive testing. However, in 2005, Trinity determined it could save money by cutting one inch of steel from each unit. Trinity stood to make a profit of only $2 per guardrail, or $50,000 per year from this design change. This cutback proved fatal; it turned the guardrails into deadly weapons. The newly-designed guardrail acted as a spear, piercing a vehicle that ran into it.
The company faces lawsuits by individuals who lost limbs in guardrail collisions and families of people killed in similar accidents. In recent lawsuits, victims suggest slight modifications to the original design, including reducing the size of one piece by an inch, turned the terminals into road hazards. Trinity denies the modifications affected performance.
Fortunately, justice prevailed. On October 21, 2014, a jury found Trinity Industries, the company of defrauding the U.S. government and secretly changing the designs of their product. Trinity paid $175 million in damages to the government. In addition, this was a False Claims Act lawsuit, and automatically tripled to $525 million under the Act. It was the largest recovery ever in the U.S. resulting from a whistleblower’s False Claims Act lawsuit.
In 2015, U.S. District Judge Rodney Gilstrap tacked on an additional $138 million in penalties against Trinity, pushing the company’s liability for the guardrails to $663 million. The case is in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals where Trinity is asking for a new trial because of a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, which established new standards for determining whether a defendant’s regulatory violations are serious enough to warrant liability under the False Claims Act.
Josh Harman, a competitor to Trinity Industries, discovered the design and brought the case to the court’s attention. With the secret design changes coming to light, evidence was discovered that indicated Trinity knew about the danger their product created and a crash test video that clearly shows a car receiving severe amounts of damage after colliding with the new guardrail. Trinity claims that their design passed safety regulations and any omitted information was done so without intent.
At least one state (Virginia) has removed such guardrails from its roadways. To date, over 30 states have removed the Trinity guardrails from their Qualified Products Lists and banned further installation of the system until new testing is completed.
These states include:
|Arizona Colorado Connecticut Delaware Florida Georgia Hawaii Idaho Kansas Kentucky Louisiana||Massachusetts Michigan Minnesota Mississippi Missouri Montana Nebraska Nevada New Hampshire New Mexico New Jersey||New York North Dakota Ohio Oklahoma Oregon Texas Utah Vermont Virginia Washington Wisconsin|