Company Hit with $663 Million in Fines in Fraud Case Over Guardrail Design

A federal court in Texas recently announced a $663 million judgment against Trinity Industries for producing defective guardrails that may make accidents and injuries worse, according to a recent article in the New York Times.

The judgment came at the conclusion of a trial that began after a competitor realized that Trinity had made substantive changes to its ET-Plus guardrail system in 2005 but had failed to notify federal regulators of the change.

In his opinion, U.S. District Judge Rodney Gilstrap wrote that there had been “substantial evidence” that Trinity “made the decision to modify the ET-Plus, conceal such modifications, and falsely certify that the ET-Plus united had been accepted” by government regulators.

Trinity claims that no fraud was committed and the court’s decision was made in error, according to the New York Times. However, some injured motorists appear to disagree. At least 14 lawsuits have currently been filed, blaming the guardrails for causing serious injuries and at least five deaths in motor vehicle crashes.

At trial, a jury found that Trinity’s actions had defrauded the Federal Highway Administration. The jury set the damages award at $175 million, which was tripled under the False Claims Act’s treble damages rule to $525 million.

The judge added another $138 million in civil penalties to the final judgment, in order to compensate for over 16,000 false certifications made to the federal government and to other companies in connection with payments for the guardrails. The court also ordered Trinity to pay approximately $19 million in legal fees and costs.

Since the court made its decision, the Federal Highway Administration has ordered Trinity to perform additional crash tests on the ET-Plus. The Justice Department and the inspector general for the Department of Transportation have also begun a joint criminal investigation into Trinity’s dealings with the Federal Highway Administration, the New York Times reported.

Defective guardrails can pose a significant risk to motorists. So can defective automobiles, vehicle parts and vehicle equipment. If you believe you or a loved one has been injured because of defective equipment, you should discuss your legal options with a qualified Austin personal injury lawyer.