Guardrails off the market due to safety & fraud concerns

October 27, 2014

A guardrail company will, for the time being, stop selling a product that has been found to impale auto occupants in crashes. Trinity Industries’ guardrails, which had already been banned in 13 states and counting as of last week, will be off the market until “further testing” can be done, reports the New York Times.

Despite significant safety concerns which led several states to ban the guardrail last week, Trinity Industries had continued to sell the product… until, last week a jury found that the company had defrauded the federal government by not informing the Federal Highway Administration of changes it had made to the product nine years ago.

guardrail in mountains

Trinity Industries’ guardrails have been implicated in at least five deaths plus assorted injuries. The guardrails have already been installed in nearly every state. From thisisbossi.

What’s the problem with the guardrails? The design of the rail’s end terminal — “a flat piece of steel at the front that, on impact, is meant to glide along the rail and push the metal safely out of the way” — was changed in 2005, but Trinity did not inform the government, which it is required to do. (Trinity had reduced the channel behind the head from five inches to four inches. This might have resulted in the mechanism jamming, according to state officials. “When that happens, the rail may spear the vehicle itself, potentially injuring occupants,” explains the Times.)

Fourteen or more lawsuits attribute five deaths — plus injuries — to the faulty guardrails. “The right thing to do is to stop shipping the product until the additional testing has been completed,” Gregg Mitchell, the president of Trinity’s highway products department, told the Times. The company also agreed that it would not ship out any pending orders of the guardrails, known as the ET-Plus.

The guardrails are used along roadways in almost every state. States that banned the guardrail prior to the company’s agreement to cease selling it included Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Mississippi, Louisiana, Hawaii, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. Connecticut is home to about 200 Trinity rail heads, while Arizona has more than 3,500 of Trinity’s guardrail systems. Individual states hold responsibility for the safety equipment used on their highways, but the Federal Highway Administration is a “clearinghouse for safety data and approving products for federal reimbursement.”

The government had continually defended the rails, despite learning over two years ago that Trinity Industries had not reported the 2005 changes to the product. “We will not waver on safety,” Neil Gaffney, an agency spokesman, told the Times. “Trinity is required to retest the ET-Plus guardrail end terminal to ensure it meets both the safety criteria set by the states and, most importantly, the safety expectations of motorists on our highways.”

The government agency had first heard of the change in design back in 2012, via a Trinity competitor named Joshua Harman. Harman noted the design change in 2011 in litigation, and later filed a lawsuit against Trinity on behalf of the Federal Highway Administration. Last week, a jury in Texas found that Trinity had “defrauded the federal agency by keeping those changes secret for seven years,” reports the Times.

The verdict? $175 million. Yet the company’s costs may rise to $1 billion, as the initial amount must be tripled — according to federal law — and the company may also have to fork over lawyers’ fees and statutory fines.

Trinity Industries is expected to turn in a plan for testing the product by later this week.

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Category: Infrastructure, Transportation

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