Virginia Sues Guardrail Manufacturer

December 16, 2014

Virginia sued a Texas company for selling the state “unapproved highway safety equipment” that was recently taken off the market, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said Thursday.

In the complaint filed in Richmond Circuit Court, Virginia is seeking civil penalties and possible costs relating to replacing products made by Trinity Industries and Trinity Highway Products.

Trinity stopped shipments of its ET-Plus guardrails in October after a Texas jury ordered the company to pay at least $175 million for failing to tell regulators about changes it made. Virginia and state contractors purchased and installed thousands of these products, Herring’s office said in a news release.

A whistleblower says the company changed the guardrails’ design but didn’t inform regulators for several years. Critics say that the 2005 change turned the ends of the guardrails into spears that could impale vehicles.

“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,” Herring said. “Trinity had an obligation to test and seek approval for its equipment.”

In a statement, Trinity spokesman Jeff Eller said the company did not commit fraud against Virginia.

“We are surprised and deeply disappointed the Commonwealth of Virginia chose the lawsuit path. … We will defend ourselves fully against these allegations,” he said.

Federal officials on Wednesday watched the first in a series of crash tests on the highway guardrails. The guardrail performed as expected by giving way when hit at an angle by a pickup at a testing center in San Antonio, Texas, said Tony Furst, an associate administrator of the Federal Highway Administration. No decision will be made on the guardrails until several more tests are done by early next year, Furst told reporters.

The tests will determine whether rails made after the design change meet standards allowing states to be reimbursed by the federal government for installing them.

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