Trinity Defrauded Government in Guardrail Case, Jury FindsOct 23, 2014
A jury in Texas found that Trinity Industries defrauded the United States government by hiding design changes to its highway guardrail system. According to Bloomberg, the company may be facing a liability of $1 billion.
The case stems from a whistleblower lawsuit filed in 2012. The whistleblower is a competitor who noticed that the guardrail systems jammed in multiple car accidents across various states. He road-tripped across the country to document cases where the ET-Plus guardrail injured occupants during a car crash. He is entitled to as much as 30 percent of any final judgment.
The original ET-Plus was approved and crash tested. However, Trinity later revised the design to save on costs, the whistleblower alleged. The government was never information of this modification, and the new design was never properly tested or approved.
Guardrail systems are supposed to minimize injuries in a car accident by absorbing the impact of a collision. The lawsuit alleges that Trinity's revision locks and can impale the cars instead.
Scrutiny of the guardrail systems has been increasing across the country. The Federal Highway Administration instructed all states to submit crash information related to the ET-Plus earlier this month. The system has been banned by four states so far, who are conducting their own investigations. Additionally, dozens of personal injury lawsuits have been filed against the Trinity over injuries and deaths allegedly caused by the guardrail systems.
The jury found that by wrongly passing off the modified product as eligible for federal funding, Trinity defrauded the government $175 million. According to Bloomberg, damages awarded against the company will be tripled. Additionally, the judge will add a penalty; the amount is yet to be determined. Trinity intends to appeal the verdict. This is the third largest jury verdict this year, after taking into account the tripling.