Virginia Sues Guardrail Maker After Federal Texas Verdict
Posted on behalf of Goldberg Finnegan, LLC on Jan 07, 2015 in Car Accidents
The Commonwealth of Virginia has filed a civil lawsuit against Trinity Industries, the maker of a common highway guardrail. The states Attorney General alleges that Trinity sold Virginia thousands of dangerous, unapproved, or improperly tested guardrails for use along the commonwealths highways, and seeks to recoup the money the state spent on the defective guardrails.
Fallout from Federal Whistleblower Case
The lawsuit comes a few short months after a federal jury in Texas decided that the company made changes to the design of the guardrail without informing the federal government. In October, the jury returned a verdict of $175 million, which will be tripled to $525 million under federal whistleblower laws. The jury found that Trinity had defrauded the government by failing to inform the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) when it made changes to its guardrails that took them out of compliance with safety standards.
Guardrails are meant to act as a buffer which absorbs the impact of a collision and guides a vehicle away from obstacles along the sides of the road. When a car strikes the front part of the guardrail, the metal pieces slide past each other, and transfer the force of the crash along the rail. The federal whistleblower lawsuit found that Trinity had narrowed the channels where the pieces are supposed to slide, which resulted in the guardrails jamming. The jammed rails could not slide, and instead acted like a harpoon, impaling vehicles rather than protecting them.
After the federal verdict, Mark R. Herring, Attorney General of Virginia, filed a complaint in Richmond Circuit Court, seeking civil penalties against the company. Speaking about the complaint, Herring said, Trinity had an obligation to test and seek approval for its equipment, but instead, they sold the commonwealth thousands of unapproved products that had not been properly tested to ensure they would keep motorists safe.
Virginia is the first state to file its own lawsuit against Trinity Industries. While the Texas whistleblower lawsuit was brought on behalf of the federal and state governments, no other state has filed an individual case against the company. However, that may change soon. Prosecutors for several counties in Illinois have also sued Trinity in federal court, accusing the company of deceptive trade practices and covering up fraudulent activity. In addition, officials from California may also be investigating the possibility of litigation.
Extensive Testing Ordered on Defective Guardrails
After the federal jury verdict, Virginia's department of transportation threatened to remove all Trinity guardrails if more testing was not completed to prove the current guardrails were safe. In response, the company agreed to perform tests in conjunction with the FHA.
Trinity had an obligation to test and seek approval for its equipment, but instead, they sold the commonwealth thousands of unapproved products that had not been properly tested to ensure they would keep motorists safe.
Mark R. Herring, Virginia Attorney General
Virginia and more than 30 other states have banned Trinity's ET-Plus guardrail, pending the results of the investigation and safety testing. The FHA is currently overseeing testing in San Antonio, which will take several weeks to complete. The agency reports that it is conducting broad testing initially to get a baseline for how the guardrails function, and will then move on to more specific tests.
The FHA expects the tests to be completed in January, and will analyze a set of eight crashes. Officials from several states are observing the tests, including representatives from Virginia, California, and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
A spokesperson for Trinity said that the company did not commit fraud against the Commonwealth of Virginia, and will be conducting two tests specifically requested by the state.
Virginia and other states around the country will be eagerly awaiting the results of the tests. If it is determined that the guardrails on Virginia's roads are dangerous to motorists, the state will try to recoup the cost of replacing them from Trinity Industries, rather than from taxpayers.
Virginia Drivers Deserve Safe Highways
Auto accidents affect the lives of both victims and their families. An accident can be especially traumatic if the safety devices meant to protect drivers fail as a result of someone else's wrongdoing. If you or your loved one was injured as a result of someone else's negligence, the Virginia car accident attorneys at Goldberg Finnegan can help.