A popular guardrail which currently lines roadways across the nation—and is also at the center of a whistleblower lawsuit—may result in much more serious injuries than the older model guardrails. In fact, the study—conducted by researchers at the University of Alabama—which looked at nearly a decade of crashes in Missouri and Ohio, determined the ET-Plus guardrail is 1.36 times as likely to result in severe injury and 2.86 times more likely to result in death than the older ET-2000 model. Both guardrail models are manufactured by Trinity Industries.
The ET-Plus guardrails are currently installed in all fifty states, and even qualify the purchasers to federal reimbursement for the product. The whistleblower lawsuit against Trinity Industries claims that alterations made to the guardrails are directly responsible for four fatalities and another ten serious injuries. The focus of the lawsuit is the end terminal which attaches to the guardrail end. These energy-absorbing terminals are usually marked with black and yellow stripes. The original terminal design will give when a vehicle collides with it, absorbing the energy of the crash and slowing the vehicle. Instead, the ET-Plus is acting like a giant spear, puncturing anything which gets in its way.
Former industry business owner Josh Harman has filed a federal whistleblower lawsuit in Texas federal court—where the headquarters for Trinity Industries is located. A mistrial in the case occurred in early summer, as U.S. District Judge Rodney Gilstrap voiced serious concerns regarding witness truthfulness among witnesses testifying for Trinity Industries. The case is expected back in the Texas District Court later in 2014. Harman alleges the ET-Plus guardrails were not sufficiently tested and were not government-approved and calls the ET-Plus model “dangerous and deadly.” Harman claims that because the feeder chute size was decreased by an inch, the guardrail pulls up, ramming through the vehicle rather than “sweeping” the vehicle to the side. Internal company e-mails discuss diminishing the size of the guardrail head in an effort to save money.
Harman did not plan on taking on Trinity; while driving past the scene of an accident on a North Carolina interstate, he noticed the jagged end of a guardrail bent toward the highway. Harman then tracked down the Nissan Sentra, driven by Darius Williams, in a nearby junkyard where it had been towed after the accident. Sure enough, a ten foot length of guardrail had doubled back on itself, skewering the car and landing Williams in intensive care. With as much as $1 billion potentially at stake, Harman alleges that “quiet” design changes were made by Trinity which transformed America’s guardrail systems into deadly hazards.
Trinity officials claim that only cosmetic changes were made (which required no government approval) and characterize Harman as opportunistic. Trinity further claims Harman is simply retaliating against the company because Trinity Industries pursued a patent infringement suit against a company owned by Harman several years back. Harman, however, takes the lawsuit against Trinity very seriously, and has spent over 300 days in the last year alone on the road as he visits crash sites in an attempt to improve his lawsuit against the company.
Steven Lawrence, a Texas lawyer who frequently travels with Josh Harman, has filed multiple personal injury and wrongful death suits against Trinity Industries on behalf of his clients. One of those clients, a former Marine, lost both legs as the ET-Plus came through the floorboard of his vehicle during a crash. Harman believes he has adequately proven that at least twenty deaths are directly linked to the ET-Plus. Trinity claims a much more detailed analysis of the accidents is in order before judging how the guardrail performed and that Harman is not eligible to file a whistleblower lawsuit because his allegations are based on public information rather than insider knowledge. The judge disagreed, stating Harman’s expertise allowed him to file the suit. Harman could potentially be entitled to at least a third of the award if the guardrail manufacturer loses the suit, however Trinity Industry officials claim they are not worried about the outcome of the lawsuit.
If you or someone you love has been injured in an accident, it is critical to contact an experienced Denver personal injury lawyer immediately. Contact a Denver personal injury lawyer at Fuicelli & Lee, PC, for a free case evaluation to discuss your situation and your concerns. You pay nothing unless you receive a financial settlement or award. Call our office at 303-355-7202 or fill out our confidential contact form.
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