As you are likely aware, Trinity Highway Products was recently handed a $175 million jury verdict in a recent False Claims Act lawsuit. At issue in the litigation was Trinity’s assertion that its ET-Plus guardrail system was safe and effective in the event of a highway collision–despite the fact it altered the design and failed to alert authorities and initiate additional testing to ensure safety and compliance. The result? A nine-figure False Claims Act verdict that is very likely to be tripled under the FCA’s treble damages clause. Now, in the midst of Trinity’s enormous debt to the federal government, it is mandated to perform a new series of crash tests on the ET-Plus design as the device has already been installed on highways and interstates across the United States.
Federal officials react to Trinity’s intentional misrepresentations
Nearly ten years ago, Trinity Highway Products submitted designs to the Federal Highway Administration for approval of its ET-Plus guardrail system, which was contemplated to effectuate increased vehicular safety, particularly in the event of high-speed impact. The original design was approved and set for installation in dozens of states having contracted with the company to enhance highway safety. Inexplicably, however, Trinity opted to shorten one of its components by one inch and failed to re-submit the new design to highway authorities for approval. In a whistleblower lawsuit, a former Trinity employee alleges that the one inch alteration rendered the guardrail akin to a fatal weapon–causing it to sever a vehicle upon contact. The results of an ABC News media investigation revealed the contents of an internal email explaining that shortening the piece of metal by one inch would save $2.00 per terminal or $50,000 per year.
Following the $175 million verdict rendered against Trinity in October, 2014, Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) sent a letter to the FHWA asking for clarification as to why the ET-Plus design was not reevaluated despite public concerns over its safety beginning as early as 2012. More specifically, Senator Blumenthal stated:
“I am gravely concerned about the effectiveness of this device and the conduct of Trinity in failing to disclose what could be a material change to a critical safety product. I am also very concerned that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) failed to protect against potentially fatal defects in this product and that it continued… to assume and represent to state transportation agencies that the product was safe. States and motorists must be able to rest assured the product is safe or take additional action should the product fail to meet safety standards.”
Federal authorities gave Trinity just ten days (until October 31, 2013) to provide a new crash testing plan, or its eligibility for federal reimbursement could be suspended or revoked.
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