December 15, 2014 — The New York Times reports that Virginia has filed a lawsuit against Trinity Industries for defrauding the state by failing to disclose potentially hazardous design changes to a highway guardrail.
In October, a jury in Texas found Trinity liable for defrauding the federal government. The lawsuit was filed by a whistleblower, Joshua Harmon, who said Trinity shaved $2 in materials off a key piece of metal on the ET-Plus guardrail end-terminal sometime in 2005. That change, he said, also made the “shock-absorbing” guardrail more likely to lock up and impale oncoming vehicles.
The attorney general of Virginia, Mark R. Herring, filed a lawsuit seeking civil penalties and the recovery of costs associated with replacing the ET-Plus.
Those costs could be monumental, considering that no one knows exactly where the modified guardrails are installed. Workers will have to visually inspect thousands of miles of roadway, measure every end-terminal, order replacements, and install safer end-terminals.
The lawsuit will only move forward if safety tests show that the product is unsafe and must be replaced. Those safety tests began in San Antonio, Texas last week. They will be completed by a former business partner of Trinity, although Trinity says they are no longer paying royalties to the company.
Trinity has allowed two media observers, including one from Local 2 News in Houston, but they will not be allowed to photograph or videotape the tests.
Trinity has also barred state and federal representatives from videotaping or photographing the crash-tests. Virginia’s officials attended crash tests last week, but Trinity did not allow them to inspect the ET-Plus unit before the crash — only federal officials were provided such access.
According to the Times, Virginia also asked Trinity to test guardrails that were actually installed on roads. However, the guardrails that were used in last week’s tests, and planned for seven more tests, came from the inventory of the California Department of Transportation.
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