A Federal Jury in Texas recently found that Trinity Industries defrauded the U.S. Government by using faulty guardrails along the Nations Highways. Trinity Industries apparently made changes to its ET-Plus Guardrails in about 2005 that made them more dangerous than they were previously. The recent jury verdict was in a False Claims Act Case and the jury determined that by selling the altered guardrails to the U.S. Government without telling the U.S. Government about the changes the company was essentially ripping the Government off.
According to the lawsuit, Trinity Industries changed the design of its guardrails without informing the government, and altered the guardrails in a way that failed to comply with federal standards and endangered drivers.
The person who instigated the lawsuit, Joshua Harman, worked as a competitor of Trinity Industries. When Trinity sued Harman for patent infringement violations, Harman discovered that Trinity had illegally changed its guardrails design.
According to documents uncovered in the patent infringement lawsuit, Trinity changed the flat part at the front of the guardrails, known as the rail head, without informing the Federal Highway Administration.
Guardrails are made up of long pieces of flat metal, which act as buffers that absorb impact in a collision. When a vehicle hits the rail head at the front of the guardrail, the metal pieces slide past each other, guiding the vehicle away from obstacles near the side of the road and acting as a cushion which transfers the force of the impact along the rail.
Harman alleged that the change in rail head prevented the parts of the rail from sliding during a collision. Instead of collapsing in on itself, the guardrail would become jammed, and the long pieces of metal would pierce the vehicle like a harpoon. The change in the guardrails design saved Trinity Industries approximately $2 per unit.
The defective guardrails are the subject of at least 14 lawsuits and multiple deaths around the country. The jury in this case found that Trinity Industries failure to inform the Federal Highway Administration of the change, coupled with the safety failures in the design, amounted to fraud against the government.
The jury ordered Trinity Industries to pay a judgment of $175 million dollars, which under federal whistleblower statutes will be tripled to $525 million. The money will be split between the government and Mr. Harmon, who will receive approximately 1/3 of the judgment for exposing the fraud. The judgment is one of the largest whistleblower verdicts in recent history.
Trinity Industries has vowed to appeal the verdict, and stated that it does not believe that the guardrails are dangerous. It also characterized its failure to inform the government of the design change as accidental.
Whistleblower cases allow ordinary citizens to expose fraud and corruption that wastes taxpayer money. The False Claims Act allows people with evidence of fraud to file secret lawsuits on behalf of the federal government. These lawsuits help stop illegal practices like overbilling the government, insider trading, mortgage fraud, and Medicare and Medicaid fraud, which costs taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars every year.
If a whistleblower case is successful, the person who brought the lawsuits can recover a portion of the money the government recovers as a reward.
If you have personal knowledge that your employer is committing fraud against the government, you need to speak with an attorney. An experienced whistleblower attorney can help you keep your claim secret, and will work to keep your allegations private for as long as possible. Also, if you or a loved one has been involved in a car accident involving a guardrail that could be defective, call us for a free case evaluation.