Guardrail Endcap Company Convicted of Fraud; Government Calls for Additional Testing Amid Safety Concerns
Readers Note: Allen and Allen is actively investigating cases involving injuries resulting from ET-Plus guardrail endcaps. If you or a loved one has been injured by a guardrail during an accident, you may need an attorney to represent your interests. Allen and Allen offers free consultations to potential cases. Call us at 866-388-1307.
A major piece of highway safety equipment could be hiding a dangerous defect. No fewer than seven states have now banned further installation of the ET-Plus guardrail head as the Federal Highway Administration sent the system back to the crash course for additional testing. Virginia is among the states to raise safety concerns over the rail heads and ban their future use. There will be a new study conducted on the safety and reliability of the endcaps, but in the meantime thousands of them remain in place all across the country.
Metal guardrails are a common sight along the highway, but not many realize that the short metal fence whizzing by is a sophisticated system designed to minimize the impact of a crash. The most dangerous crashes involving guardrails occur when a car hits the end of the fence head on. In those cases, a highly specialized end cap is designed to be pushed down the length of the fence by the car, absorbing impact and directing the metal of the fence to the side. If the endcap fails to push the fence out the way, the car could be split lengthwise by a high-speed spear of metal.
Investigations have shown that Trinity Industries, one of the largest providers of endcaps in the country, made changes to its endcap design without reporting them to the federal government. This means the caps being installed on America’s highways were not the same as the ones that had undergone extensive safety testing before being approved. Now people injured by these guardrails are bringing suits against the company[A1] . They allege that changing the main base of the cap from five inches to four resulted in a cap that was more likely to jam and break off, causing the metal guardrail to spear into the car instead of being diverted to the side. Such accidents almost always result in serious injury or death.
The mandate for additional testing comes just after the conclusion of a whistle-blower trial in which the jury determined that Trinity had committed fraud by concealing the changes for a period of seven years. That verdict could cost the company as much as a billion dollars before the case is over. However, the Federal Highway Administration has also come under fire for allowing installation of the endcaps to continue after the deception was uncovered in 2012. Despite federal inaction five states had bans on future installation in place before the verdict was handed down, and several more are expected to quickly follow suit.
Trinity is defending its reputation as best it can, claiming that the omission in government reporting was an oversight and offering evidence that the new guardrails work just as well as the old. But ABC News and 20/20 investigations have uncovered documents and internal emails that suggest the concealment may have been deliberate, and detail the roughly $50,000 a year in savings provided by constructing smaller diameter endcaps.
With many thousands of modified endcaps still on roadsides and angry accident victims gathering, this issue will continue to grow in the coming months. Much hinges on the retesting ordered by the government, but with one fraud conviction already in, Trinity could face serious legal trouble regardless of the outcome.