October 24, 2014 | By R. Brendan Dummigan of Pickett Dummigan LLP

changing the design of guardrailsTrinity Industries, a maker of highway guardrails, was found by a jury on Monday to have defrauded the government by making unauthorized design changes to their ET-Plus guardrails. The original guardrails were sold to the government and have lined our highways for decades. However, in 2005, the company changed the design of the guardrail “rail head” without notifying the government. This unapproved change saved Trinity Industries $2 for each “rail head” produced after 2005.

The “rail head” is the front piece of the guardrail system which is supposed to divert the energy from a car crash by crumpling and guiding the vehicle safely to the side. Unfortunately, by changing the design of the rail head, the new rail head could actually pierce through a vehicle like a harpoon instead of deflecting the crash.

Federal standards require design changes on highway products to be disclosed to the Highway Administration and Trinity failed to do so. Although Trinity still claims that the guardrails do not pose a safety threat, four states have banned further purchases of the ET-Plus guardrail for safety reasons and many more officials have expressed concerns that the rail head design is dangerous.

The extent of Trinity’s fraud is still being litigated and they could face penalties of $5,000 to $12,000 for each unapproved “rail head” sold to the government. Legal experts estimate that Trinity could be facing a total of $175 million dollars in penalties; a high price to pay for a poor decision to save $2 on production costs. The true tragedy of Trinity’s poor decision is only beginning to be revealed. Several lawsuits have already been filed against Trinity, blaming the guardrail design for five deaths and other injuries.

Companies should never compromise safety for profit and the law seems to agree. Aside from Trinity’s guardrail case, personal injury law has held several companies accountable for bad business decisions. Companies have a responsibility to make safe products. Even products that are inherently dangerous should have specific warnings or safeguards to prevent innocent victims from getting hurt.

The attorneys at Pickett Dummigan LLP have decades of experience working with engineering experts to prove defective designs in products. We work to hold companies to a higher standard and to help victims get compensated for their loss. If you have been hurt as a result of a defective product design, we may be able to help you discover a claim. Contact our office at 503.223.7770 for a free consultation.

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