Government contract awards can pay big money and be lucrative. But so can the cost of defrauding them. The jury of a Marshall, Texas court found defendant Trinity Industries, a leading guardrail manufacturer, liable for misrepresentation and fraudulent behavior. The suit brought by competitor Josh Harman on behalf of the state government claimed Trinity Industries fraudulently misrepresented safety modification Trinity Industries made to its guardrail design. Josh Harman claims states were receiving guardrails different than what was expected.
The intended design the government believed they were receiving was to ribbon out when impacted head-on by a vehicle. Unfortunately for many crash victims, the guardrail given by Trinity Industries and installed along roads from East to West “locked up” and cut through the vehicle injuring passengers and even severing limbs. The delivered design, ET-Plus, is only different from the intended design by one inch. At the head of the guardrail is a piece of metal that upon impact was intended to shrink five inches. However, for a $2 per head savings, approximately $50,000 per year for the mammoth Trinity Industries, internal email communications show Trinity industries reduced the shrinking distance by one inch to four inches.
Trinity Industries attorneys defended accusing they first became a target of a conspiracy, and second, even after the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) was made aware of the modification in 2012, the modified design was yet approved for highway use. Despite the $175M jury verdict against Trinity Industries, which can reach over half a billion dollars under mandatory state law requiring treble damages, the company firmly believes the judgment will not be upheld upon appeal.
Trinity defends its product stating they confidently believe it is safe. In fact, Nick Artimovich a government engineer from the Office of Safety Technologies for the Federal Highway Administration said the ET-Plus passed government safety tests.
While the issues of defrauding the government works its way through the court systems, the company is subject to product liability suit from accident victims and their families. The guardrails installed in nearly every state across the nation from Massachusetts to California potentially subject Trinity Industry to a lawsuit in multiple jurisdictions and can make $50K dollar saving cost closer to $1 billion expense.