Company Stops Selling Dangerous Guardrail

     DALLAS (CN) – Days after a Texas jury slapped a $175 million verdict on Trinity Industries, the company said it will stop selling its ET-Plus guardrail system, which has been criticized for impaling vehicles.
     The Dallas-based company said Friday it would perform additional crash testing on the guardrails at the request of the Federal Highway Administration, in support of the agency’s “ongoing evaluation” of the system.
     A federal jury in Marshall ruled for the federal government on Oct. 20 in a False Claims Act lawsuit brought by whistleblower Joshua Harman.
     Harman accused Trinity of changing the design of the guardrails’ rail head without informing the FHWA in 2005. The rail head is a steel sheet that keeps vehicles from going off the road. Trinity then sold the modified guardrails to states that received federal funding.
     The design changes could cause the guardrail to spear into the vehicle during a crash instead of pushing cars away, the complaint stated.
     Gregg Mitchell, president of Trinity subsidiary Trinity Highway Products, said the sales halt “is the right thing to do” given the FHWA’s request.
     “We have confidence in the ET-Plus System as designed and crash tested by Texas A&M Transportation Institute,” Mitchell said in a statement Friday. “It has met all tests previously requested by FHWA. We take the safety of the products we manufacture very seriously.”
     The guardrails have been a significant revenue source for Trinity. They generated approximately $33 million in revenue for the first three quarters of 2014.
     Highway safety watchdog Safety Research & Strategies, of Rehoboth, Mass., filed a separate Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in May against the U.S. Department of Transportation. Although Trinity is not a party to the lawsuit, SRS accuses it of reducing the size of the terminal extruder head from 5 to 4 inches, “likely to save material and manufacturing costs,” according to the complaint .
     SRS said the FHWA failed to disclose the changes until a 2012 patent dispute between Trinity and SPIG Industries, of Bristol, Va.
     “In the fall of 2012, three of [the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’] 21 members responded to a survey about the field performance of guardrail terminals indicating that the end terminals were involved in three severe vehicle crashes that resulted in serious injuries and deaths; two of the three agencies specifically referenced the ET-Plus,” SRS’ complaint stated. “AASHTO asked FHWA to re-review its approval of the ET-Plus and document the modified barrier system’s crashworthiness under the federal criteria, NCHRP 350. More recently, in January 2014, the Nevada Department of Transportation informed Trinity that its ET-Plus terminal would no longer be considered approved equipment because of the 2005 modification that was not disclosed. Trinity was required to inform the state of the product modifications and failed to do so.”

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