As you drive back and forth to work, drop the kids off at school, pick up groceries, take family vacations, or otherwise drive around performing your normal, day-to-day activities, you probably don’t think about or even notice the guardrails on the sides of so many roadways. However, with the recent resolution of a federal lawsuit against a guardrail manufacturer, many more families, officials, and government agencies will have to start paying more attention to these common highway safety devices.
One Guardrail Manufacturer Held Responsible for Failing to Report a Dangerous Design Change
After a short jury deliberation on October 27, Trinity Industries was held responsible for defrauding the government about a design change in the ET-Plus model of guardrails, and the company was ordered to pay $175 million in damages. The whistleblower in the case was Josh Harman, a former competitor in the industry, who claimed that Trinity’s changes in the guardrail design of their ET-Plus model were:
- Not appropriately tested
- Not reported to or approved by the government
The jury agreed that Trinity had acted fraudulently—even failing to report the change when asked directly by state-level officials—regarding the potentially deadly design change, and the company is now being held liable for its alleged false statements and choosing profits over safety.
Additionally, many individuals and families who have been hurt or lost a loved one in auto accidents involving the ET-Plus guardrail have filed their own suits against the highway-manufacturing giant.
The Potential Dangers of Trinity’s Change in the ET-Plus Guardrail Design
The design change in question really only amounts to one inch of metal, but these subtle changes in the guardrail’s design may have fatal consequences. On impact, guardrails are designed to move along a channel built into the rail, causing the guardrail to buckle in a way that is less likely to affect the vehicle in the collision. By removing the small amount of material from the design—a change that saved Trinity a reported two dollars on each rail-head piece—it became more likely that the guardrail would fail to glide along the channel properly. As a result, the guardrail could instead pierce right through the vehicle making impact.
There have been reports of this failure in the ET-Plus guardrail across the nation, and it has been estimated that the defective design has been a major factor in multiple auto-accident injuries and at least five deaths so far.
Difficult Road Ahead for State Bans on Trinity Guardrail Heads
Currently, there are Trinity ET-Plus guardrails installed in all 50 states, but that may be changing. Since the safety of the devices has come into question, fourteen states have banned any further use of the model, and the state of Virginia has also chosen to start removing the defective guardrails from highways around the state. Texas, where Trinity is headquartered, recently became one of the fourteen states enacting a ban, and many other states are expected to discuss similar bans in the near future.
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