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Holding Trinity Industries Accountable for Defective Guardrails

Arthur C. Kosieradzki - SiebenCarey "Know Your Rights" AttorneyApril 14, 2015

Trinity Industries is an American front runner in guardrail manufacturing. According to Bloomberg Business, Trinity was brought to trial for the accidents their re-configured guardrails have been causing. In Patrick G. Lee’s article “Whistle-Blower Says $1 Billion isn’t Enough in Guardrail Lawsuit”, he discusses Trinity’s failure to update the US Government on product modifications they made, which led not only to a jury’s guilty verdict, but also to many injuries and deaths.

In what Lee calls “his whistle-blower case,” Joshua Harman stood at the forefront of bringing the truth behind Trinity’s guardrails to light, and the Texas jury ended up substantiating his claims. But how were Trinity’s guardrails modified? And why does it even matter? Lee goes on to explain, “Trinity’s modified ET-Plus end terminal—which is a steel mechanism mounted onto the end of a guardrail to absorb the impact of a crash—was impaling cars instead of slowing them down safely.” The company has tried to sue Harman twice for discrediting their product, but the physics of the matter don’t lie.

Lawyers now estimate up to $1 billion in liability fees for Trinity Industries, but the company plans to appeal this verdict. According to Lee, “Throughout the litigation, the company has said it maintains ‘a high degree of confidence’ in the several hundred thousand ET-Plus units it says are installed across the country.” That is some pretty firm faith to have in a product that could cost the company $1 billion.

Virginia’s reaction was to give Trinity an Oct. 24, 2014 deadline to crash-test their product with state authorities present, which would help them determine if the rails are safe for highways. Additionally, four states have decided to ban the product altogether, due to current investigations.

To clarify, the jury in Harman’s case was not asked to rule on the effectiveness of Trinity’s product, only whether or not the company should be held accountable for their failure to update the US government on their product modifications. There are more than a dozen pending injury-related and wrongful-death lawsuits against the quality of Trinity’s product, the outcome of which is to be decided by a separate jury altogether.

Scarily enough, the Federal Highway Administration still considers Trinity’s ET-Plus guardrail model fit for use. However, they have claimed that the outcome of the aforementioned trials could potentially influence their decision in the future. In the minds of many, this is not an impactful enough course of action for the FHA to take. According to Lee, “Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut sent the agency a letter on Tuesday expressing concern that it ‘failed to protect against potentially fatal defects in this product.’” But Harman’s work helps.

In his interview with Lee, Harman claims, “I won’t rest until I get a total product recall. This is just a step.” With pressure from many sides, Trinity will pay a price for their all too serious blunder. Moving forward, It is up to each state to enact bans and laws that further hold Trinity Industries accountable.

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