Guardrail company ordered to pay $525 million for making false claims

By David Tanner, Land Line senior editor | Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A jury has found a guardrail manufacturer “civilly liable” for changing the design of a critical component after securing federal contracts. The jury sided with a whistleblower in a U.S. False Claims Act claim against Trinity Industries Inc. and ordered the company to pay $525 million in damages.

Joshua Harman of Sword Creek, Va., brought the lawsuit against Trinity in 2012, saying that Trinity Industries and Trinity Highway Products had changed the design and reduced the size of the patented ET-Plus “energy absorbing end terminal” between 2002 and 2005 and did not disclose the changes to the Federal Highway Administration.

Harman claimed the redesigned product did not absorb shock from a vehicle strike the way it was supposed to but instead locked in place and could shear a vehicle. He claimed that at least 20 people have died as a direct result of the design of the end terminals.

Harman disclosed that he owns and operates two websites that depict thousands of photos and accounts of vehicles striking the ends of guardrails. He also once ran companies that made and installed guardrails in Virginia.

Harman filed his False Claims Act suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas in Marshall.
 
Lawyers for Trinity argued that the company did not falsify any information about its products and had thoroughly crash-tested the ET-Plus for use on the National Highway System.

Harman provided evidence of contact with various transportation and safety officials who said the redesigned ET-Plus was not thoroughly crash-tested.

Over the course of the proceedings, Trinity filed two separate defamation lawsuits against Harman but later dropped both.

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