VA Attorney General moving forward with lawsuit against guardrail company

One day after a judge ordered a Texas guardrail company to pay hundreds of millions of dollars for defrauding the federal government, the Attorney General of Virginia signaled he’ll move forward with his lawsuit against the same company.

Last October, a federal jury in Texas found Trinity Industries guilty of fraud in a whistleblower case brought by a Southwest Virginia businessman. Josh Harman claimed Trinity changed a key part of its ET Plus end terminal in 2005 and never told state and federal governments who’ve purchased thousands of the safety products meant to save lives in head-on crashes.

Harman says the modification leads to the failure of the end terminal causing the guardrail to impale cars and injure or even kill the driver. “This is a severe issue that faces the entire nation,” he said Wednesday after the ruling. “These things are consistently failing everyday. I documented one on Monday.”

Crash victims and their families sued the company. One of them was the family of Sabrena Carrier, a Sullivan County EMS worker killed in a guardrail crash in 2008 near Blountville.

Trinity insists it never intentionally defrauded the government, and the federal government said safety tests conducted just a few months ago prove the ET Plus end terminal is safe.

Tuesday, a federal judge in Texas issued a judgement ordering Trinity to pay $663 million to the federal government and to Harman. Trinity said it will file motions in response to the settlement and may appeal the judge’s order.

After the federal jury verdict last October, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring sued Trinity accusing the company of defrauding the company.

Wednesday, Herring said Virginia’s case is moving forward with a hearing schedule for late August in Richmond Circuit Court.

“We’re moving forward with our lawsuit to protect Virginians and seek accountability for alleged acts of fraud committed by Trinity,” said Attorney General Herring. “The ruling in Texas is significant because the issues in our case are very similar, and we’re working to secure a similar outcome for Virginians.”

When contacted by News Channel 11 for a response to Herring’s statement, Trinity spokesman Jeff Eller said, “We look forward to presenting the facts during this litigation.”

Below is an earlier report.

A Texas guardrail manufacturer whose product is along roads all around the Tri-Cities has been ordered to pay hundreds of millions of dollars after being convicted of defrauding the government.

In a judgement issued late Tuesday by a federal judge in East Texas, Trinity Industries LLC was ordered to pay more than $663 million in damages and fines to the federal government and to competitor-turned industry whistleblower Joshua Harman.  The judge also ordered Trinity to pay attorney’s fees, expenses, and costs bringing the total judgement amount to $682 million.

Harman, a businessman who’s from the Tri-Cities region, claimed Trinity Industries changed the size of its ET-Plus guardrail terminal system in 2005 without informing state and federal governments.   He claimed the change in size of a metal rail behind the end terminal causes the product designed to prevent injuries in head-on crashes to fail.   Crash victims around the country have sued the company claiming the end terminal failure led to serious injury and death.  One lawsuit was filed by the family of Sabrina Carrier, a Sullivan County paramedic killed in a crash in 2008 near Blountville, TN.   So far, none of those cases have been resolved.

The company acknowledged the modification in 2012 and has said it never intended to commit fraud.   And Trinity also repeatedly has said its product is safe, a claim backed up by recent federal safety testing of the ET Plus end terminal which the government said the product passed.

But last October, a federal jury in Texas convicted Trinity of defrauding the government.   According to an attorney for Harman, mediation talks aimed at reaching a settlement broke down last week leading to the federal judge’s settlement order issued Tuesday.

Trinity spokesman Jeff Eller said, “We believe the evidence clearly shows that no fraud was committed.  Trinity also believes that the trial court made significant errors in applying the federal law to the plaintiff’s allegations and, therefore, the judgment is erroneous and should be reversed in its entirety. “

Trinity said it planned to file motions in court in response to the judgement and, depending on the result of the motions, appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. “Trinity takes all allegations concerning the ET Plus seriously and is committed to roadway safety and will continue to defend its position and protect its reputation. The Company is proud of its employees, the market-leading products it manufactures, and the professional and ethical manner in which it has and will continue to conduct its business,” the company said in a news release Tuesday evening.

Copyright 2015 WJHL.  All rights reserved.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s