A Texas jury awarded $175 million to a whistleblower who alleged that Trinity Industries changed the design of its guardrail systems without notifying regulators, making them a safety hazard. On Monday, the jury deliberated for several hours in the U.S. District Court in Marshall, Texas. They found that when Trinity modified the design of the ET-Plus guardrail end in 2005, the company made false claims to regulators.
The ET-Plus highway guardrail system is supposed to mitigate injuries by absorbing impact in case of a collision. The original version of this product was crash tested and federally approved. However, in 2005 the company modified the design of the guardrail head. The whistleblower alleges that the new version locks up and can impale oncoming vehicles. Trinity failed to inform regulators when they made the changes, the lawsuit alleges. Allegedly, there have been at least a dozen incidents, some fatal, where the modified ET-Plus guardrail spears the car instead of cushioning it.
According to Bloomberg, the damages will be tripled. Additionally, the judge overseeing the case will add a penalty. Trinity’s total liability could reach $1 billion, company lawyers said. Trinity denies wrongdoing in the litigation.
The Federal Highway Administration asked all states to submit crash information related to the ET-Plus guardrail systems last month. New installations have already been banned in four states, including Missouri, Nevada, Massachusetts and Virginia. Trinity has been given a deadline of October 24th to crash-test the revised guardrail in Virginia so state authorities can determine if it is safe for state roadways.
On Tuesday, Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut sent a letter to the FHA citing concerns that it “failed to protect against potentially fatal defects in this product.” Bloomberg reports.