2014 was a bad year for Trinity Industries. As you may recall, the once-prominent guardrail manufacturer has been facing one lawsuit after another – with claims of fraud and concealment being filed in courts across the United States.
Earlier this year, we posted a series of articles detailing the False Claims Act trial involving Trinity Industries and its whistleblower, a former employee of the organization. The crux of the issues in the False Claims Act trial involved allegations that Trinity submitted certain plans for guardrails to the National Highway Traffic Safety Commission, which were approved, and thereafter altered its plans in order to save money on the costs of metal and manufacturing. The altered plans were never submitted for approval, and dozens of collisions have occurred, causing severe property damage, injuries, and death – all of which could have possibly been avoided.
States take notice of issues
Over the Summer and Fall of 2014, one state after another suspended the installation of Trinity’s guardrail systems, citing lack of certainty in the safety and effectiveness of the systems. Accordingly, states have also opted to commence their own false claims investigations to determine if filing an individual lawsuit would be appropriate given the circumstances. On December 11, 2014, the Commonwealth of Virginia opted to pursue Trinity Industries by officially filing its own lawsuit under the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act – a statute similar to the federal False Claims Act.
Virginia files under the Fraud Against Taxpayers Act
In a complaint filed in a Richmond Circuit Court, the Virginia Attorney General’s office filed its complaint against Trinity Industries, asserting it was defrauded out of millions of dollars upon purchasing Trinity’s ET-Plus guardrail system – one that had not been approved by federal regulators. The lawsuit is seeking damages as well as a specific mandate that Trinity’s guardrail systems must undergo additional testing for safety and effectiveness. The complaint also demands reimbursement for the costs of replacing or repairing every single Trinity guardrail currently installed on Virginia’s roadways.
The Attorney General further maintains that Trinity was required to receive approval not only from federal regulators, but also from the Virginia Department of Transportation, which it failed to do. According to the complaint, VDOT paid 20 percent of all claims for reimbursement issued to the federal government by Trinity Industries.
Attorney General’s comments
In a statement issued in a December 11, 2014 press release, Attorney General Mark R. Herring stated:
It is shocking that a company would think they could secretly modify a safety device in a way that may actually pose a threat to Virginia motorists….Trinity had an obligation to test and seek approval for its equipment, but instead, they sold the Commonwealth thousands of unapproved products that had not been properly tested to ensure they would keep motorists safe. VDOT is preparing a contingency plan to identify and replace these products if necessary and appropriate testing and analysis shows them to be unsafe. If any replacements must occur, we’re going to make sure that Trinity, not Virginia taxpayers, pay the bill.”
Contact Berger & Montague, P.C. today
If you are aware of fraud involving federal or state funds, please contact our office right away for information about how you could commence your own whistleblower lawsuit.