Virginia man wins guardrail lawsuit, VDOT reacts

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) – A Virginia man has won a multi-million-dollar lawsuit against a major guardrail maker in Texas.

On Tuesday, a Texas jury awarded Joshua Harman $175 million in damages for his False Claims Act case against Trinity Industries, Incorporated. The lawsuit revolved around a claim that many states not listed on the suit have come to realize too, including Virginia.

“In 2005, there was a modification made to that product to a degree that we look at it as a different product,” said Marshall Herman, VDOT Spokesperson. “We still need to get the facts and the research and information to make a decision for Virginia’s roads.”

Photos: Guardrail Safety In Question

Harman’s lawsuit claimed the guardrail modifications made by Trinity Industries, Inc. could be deadly. He said the secret changes were cost-cutting measures, that could turn the head of Trinity’s ET-Plus guardrails into spears, that would pierce right through your car, on impact.

When 10 On Your Side first reported the lawsuit, VDOT had just sent a letter to Trinity demanding answers for Virginia drivers. But with the verdict in Texas, WAVY.com went back to VDOT and asked about the future of guardrails in Virginia.

A VDOT spokesperson said since 2006 they’ve paid for and installed 11,000 guardrails and treatments across the Commonwealth. There’s currently no inventory list of which ones are Trinity’s ET-Plus guardrails. VDOT was demanding things like rash test data from Trinity, due this week.

Right now, VDOT is still unsure if the ruling in Texas will change anything in the Commonwealth, but they’re working to find that out fast. They’ve enlisted the help of the Federal Highway Association, American Association of State Highway and Transportation officials and more.

“VDOT is going to work with Virginia’s Office of the Attorney General to review the Texas court decision on the False Claims Act lawsuit against Trinity,” Herman said.

The attorney general’s office couldn’t comment about what options are being discussed to protect Virginia drivers. But in 10 On Your Side’s last report, VDOT did say that if the guardrails were proven to be unsafe, they’d have to be found and removed. There’s a hefty price tag attached to something like that, so WAVY.com asked who would pay for that. VDOT is still trying to figure that out.

Late Tuesday, Trinity Industries, Inc. sent WAVY.com a statement, implying an appeal is on the way:

October 20, 2014. Earlier today a jury in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas returned a verdict against Trinity Industries, Inc. (NYSE-TRN) in a False Claims Act case. The jury awarded $175 million in damages.

The Company respects the jury’s decision. However, Trinity believes the decision cannot and will not withstand legal scrutiny. The Company strongly believes the courts will affirm its position.

Jack L. Todd
Vice President of Public Affairs
Trinity Corporate Services
Trinity Industries, Inc.

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