Trinity Guardrails to be Independently Tested for Safety Concerns

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Trinity Guardrails to be Independently Tested for Safety Concerns

Federal highway regulators will be re-testing ET-Plus guardrail system by Trinity Highway Products LLC after the company lost a whistleblower lawsuit. The new tests will be conducted by the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio in January. Results are expected by February.

The results will determine whether the government will reimburse states that currently use Trinity guardrails. The manufacturer suspended sales of ET-plus in October after a verdict against it. Gregory G. Nadeau, the Federal Highway Administration’s acting administrator, has shared that there were about 200,000 of the units across the nation, but not all states have complete inventories of the guardrail system.

Joshua Harman, a guardrail installer from Virginia, sued the company under the U.S. False Claims act. Harman alleged that Trinity guardrails secretly changed the design of its ET-Plus guardrail system nearly ten years ago. The change saved the company money, but made the product extremely hazardous. Guardrails are intended to crumple and absorb impact of a vehicle to help stop it. Harman alleged that the new design “throat locked” at the end terminals which instead causes the guardrail to impale vehicles like spears. It some situations, it caused death or severe injuries to vehicle occupants.

In October, the jury returned a $175 million fraud verdict against Trinity, which will be tripled under federal law. When the federal agency released Trinity’s plan, Harman’s lawyers and victims involving the guardrails, argued that the tests were inadequate and that in real-life situations, people hit the guardrails from a side angle, not head on. Testimony during the trial revealed that Trinity and the Texas Transportation Institute conducted five additional tests of the modified guardrails. All of five tests failed, and were never disclosed to federal officials.

Trinity shared that the failed test were an experiment to see if the new design would work and that it was never put into production. The federal agency said on its website that it is assessing new slight angle impact testing.

The new tests will be conducted by the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, which has no financial interest in the product, according to the federal agency.Trinity disputes the jury verdict, and shared that it has confidence that the tests will find the ET-Plus guardrails safe.

Source: New York Times, Law 360

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