Jury Finds Trinity Guardrail Defrauded Government, Must Pay $175 Million in Damages
An image from the United States ex rel. Harman v. Trinity complaint
Key records from the case remain under seal
A Texas jury has found that cost-cutting measures and deliberate withholding of information about those measures by highway guardrail manufacturer Trinity Industries Inc. defrauded the government of $175 million dollars.
“This is an important victory against corporate interests who think they can shave life-and-death safety features from a product to save a few dollars without being held accountable,” said Leah Nicholls, staff attorney, of the Harman verdict. “The next step is to prevent Trinity from keeping its safety information secret.”
This summer, Public Justice moved to intervene in this case, United States ex rel. Harman v. Trinity, on behalf of two nonprofit safety groups. The Center for Auto Safety and The Safety Institute are seeking to open the records because of the serious safety risks posed by hundreds of thousands of guardrails that have been installed in all 50 states – with federal financial assistance – to protect people in highway crashes. U.S. District Judge Rodney Gilstrap denied the motion to intervene on Sept. 4, but at the same time he affirmed the groups’ contention that Trinity must justify why these important records are shielded from public view. The Center for Auto Safety and the Safety Institute are appealing the denial of the motion to intervene.
The whistleblower in the case, Joshua Harman, claimed that modifications to the “ET-Plus” guardrails manufactured by Trinity Industries Inc. transformed the guardrails into lethal spears. Harman claimed that Trinity hid the modifications from the federal government, defrauding taxpayers of money and placing the driving public at grave risk.
“Trinity can no longer deny the importance of the sealed records in this case,” said Leslie Brueckner, senior attorney. “Those records undoubtedly contain important information about the hazards of the ET Plus. The public needs to know the facts.”