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Jury Awards Whistleblower $175 Million in Guardrail Case

Oct 27, 2014

A federal jury in Marshall, Texas, awarded $175 million to whistleblower who brought a case against Trinity Industries over the safety of thousands of its highway guardrail systems.

Josh Harman, a Virginia guardrail installer, filed a lawsuit under provisions of the federal False Claims Act, accusing Trinity of redesigning a part of the ET-Plus guardrail in 2005 in a way that rendered the system unsafe, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Guardrail systems are intended to push the steel rail away from an oncoming car, slowing it to a stop. The lawsuit alleged that Trinity’s redesigned guardrail, instead of cushioning a vehicle’s impact, jams and sends the end into the vehicle like a spear. At least a dozen accidents, including some fatalities, have been reported in accidents where a vehicle ran off the road and collided with the Trinity guardrails. A number of lawsuits have been filed against Trinity, the WSJ reports.

Missouri, Nevada and Massachusetts have banned contractors from installing Trinity guardrails, and other states are investigating the system. The Federal Highway Administration approved the guardrail changes after reviewing two crash tests conducted by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, according to the WSJ. After the verdict, a FHWA spokesman said that the agency is reviewing the “service record” of the ET-Plus and has asked state officials to share crash information in accidents involving the ET-Plus. Earlier this year, a study led by Dean Sicking of the University of Alabama found that Trinity’s ET-Plus model was nearly three times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than a previous model, the ET-2000.

Under the False Claims Act, in a successful suit, the whistleblower is entitled to receive a portion of the settlement.

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