Guardrail verdict awarding $175 million to whistleblower expected to save hundreds of lives

The federal jury that awarded $175 million to whistleblower Josh Harman against guardrail manufacturer Trinity Industries may have set the pathway to save hundreds of lives nationwide by forcing safer guardrails onto our highways.

The  jury found that the company made false claims to federal regulators when it changed the guardrail end’s design system in 2005.Mr. Harman accused Trinity of redesigning its ET-Plus guardrail piece in 2005 in a way that rendered them unsafe. At least a dozen accidents—some fatal—have been reported for vehicles that run off the road and collide with Trinity-made guardrail end caps that, instead of cushioning the impact, malfunction and spear the vehicle, according to lawsuits that have been filed against Trinity.

Several states, including Missouri, Nevada and Massachusetts, stopped contractors from installing the guardrail piece.

The Federal Highway Administration approved the guardrail changes after reviewing two crash tests conducted by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. After the verdict, a FHWA spokesman said that the agency is reviewing Trinity’s “guardrail service record” and is asking state officials to share any crash information involving the Trinity ET-Plus guardrail end terminal.

Damages are usually tripled under the federal rules that govern whistleblower procedures, and Mr. Harman’s legal team also has asked Judge Rodney Gilstrap to issue additional penalties of more than $100 million.

Mr. Harman, a Virginia guardrail installer, sued Trinity in 2012 on behalf of the government under the qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act. The provisions let whistleblowers sue companies for allegedly fraudulent acts that are harmful to the government.

Earlier this year, a study found that the guardrails were unsafe and did not adsorb the force of a vehicle but remained more rigid which make it more likely to cause injuries and deaths.

Jeffrey Newman represents whistleblowers.