Virginia sues highway guardrails manufacturer

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

RICHMOND, Va. (AP/WAVY) — Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring is suing a Texas company for selling the state what he calls “unapproved highway safety equipment.”

Herring announced the legal action against Trinity Industries and Trinity Highway Products on Thursday.

“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,” Attorney General Herring said in a press release. “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.”

Documents: Commonwealth of Virginia v. Trinity Industries, Inc.

Trinity stopped shipments of its ET-Plus guardrails in October, after a Texas jury ordered it to pay at least $175 million for misleading regulators.

A whistleblower said the company changed the guardrails’ design, but didn’t inform regulators for several years. Critics say the 2005 design change turned the ends of the guardrails into spears that could impale vehicles upon impact, instead of absorbing the blow.

Virginia and state contractors purchased and installed thousands of these products, which still line Virginia highways.

“Virginia’s suit follows a series of accidents across the country involving serious injury or death in which the modified guardrail end treatments appear to have malfunctioned,” read part of a press release from Herring’s office.

In the complaint filed in Richmond Circuit Court, Virginia is seeking civil penalties and costs relating to replacing Trinity’s products, if necessary.

“VDOT is preparing a contingency plan to identify and replace these products, if necessary and appropriate testing and analysis shows them to be unsafe,” Herring said. “If any replacements must occur, we’re going to make sure that Trinity, not Virginia taxpayers, pay the bill.”

Trinity Highway Products, LLC released the following response to the Commonwealth’s legal action:

Trinity did not commit fraud against the Commonwealth of Virginia. We are surprised and deeply disappointed the Commonwealth of Virginia chose the lawsuit path. We are in the process of conducting the eight tests requested by the FHWA, which includes the two tests specifically requested by Virginia. We have given them all the data they have requested. We will continue to work with them. We will defend ourselves fully against these allegations.

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.

 

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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