After more than 30 states have banned the use of guardrails supplied by Trinity Industries, the New York Times reports that Virginia plans to become the first state to order removal of the controversial guardrail system.
The reason state officials gave for moving forward with removal plans is that the manufacturer has not yet complied with requests to conduct new car crash tests and submit additional safety documentation.
In addition to making demands for new crash testing, the Virginia Department of Transportation is working with the state’s Attorney General’s office to recover costs associated with the removal of the guardrail systems from the manufacturer so taxpayers will not be left having to foot the bill.
State officials have already stated they will halt removal if new crash tests conclusively show the guardrail systems are sound.
Dangers Posed by Malfunctioning Guardrail Systems
Countless highways throughout Virginia and across the U.S. have employed the use of these particular systems in an effort to not only help prevent vehicles from careening off the road, but to act as a cushion upon impact in a car accident.
Nationwide attention was drawn to the potentially flawed guardrail systems when, this fall, a jury found that the manufacturer had failed to notify the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) of a key design change it had made.
Although claims have been made that the change was simply “cosmetic,” state officials believe reducing the end cap from five to four inches may have compromised the integrity and functioning of the guardrails.
Guardrail end caps are one part of an entire safety system that is supposed to absorb the impact of a vehicle when it hits the railing head-on and then collapse so as to guide the railing out of the vehicle’s path. According to news reports, the guardrail has instead, in some instances, shot straight into the vehicle.
At least 14 individual lawsuits have been filed against the manufacturer by people who have sustained devastating injuries or lost loved ones as a result of the allegedly faulty guardrail end pieces, according to the Times.
Whistleblower Prevails in Guardrail Lawsuit
The Trinity whistleblower who stood up and alerted the FHA about the questionable safety of the guardrail end caps was also responsible for filing a lawsuit on behalf of the FHA under the False Claims Act.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the case came to an end in mid-October, when a federal jury returned a $175 million dollar verdict against the manufacturer for defrauding the federal government. No ruling was made on whether or not the guardrail system is, in fact, defective.
Because the award will automatically be tripled to $525 million, and the judge may add penalty fines, the final figure could approach $1 billion.
Mr. Joshua Harman, the whistleblower, will receive half of the awarded money, while the U.S. Treasury will receive the other half.
If you have been seriously injured or lost a loved one in a car accident such as one involving a defective guardrail, it is important to contact an experienced attorney who can help you to recover compensation for your losses.