Safety Advocate Claims Guard Rail Design Change Potentially Fatal
Trinity Industries manufactures guardrails that can be found on roadways across the United States. According to a former competitor and now a self-described “safety advocate,” the company redesigned its guardrails between 2002 and 2005 to lower manufacturing costs and make them unsalvageable, so that highway departments would have to buy new guardrails to replace damaged ones. Joshua Harman also claims that the redesign has greatly increased the risk of injury, eliminating the cushioning effect of the prior design and often causing the guardrail to act like a spear, impaling the car and potentially the driver.
In a lawsuit filed in federal court, under the federal “whistleblower” statute, Harman claims that Trinity made the changes without notifying federal authorities. A Trinity spokesman has stated that the company has “a high degree of confidence” in its guardrail product. A spokesperson for the Federal Highway Safety Administration agreed that Trinity had the new design crash-tested without any concerns, and that it had received no complaints from state highway authorities about the guardrails.
According to Harman, Trinity made internal design changes that increased the risk of injury. The guardrail, as originally designed, has a W-shaped channel at the impact end. When a vehicle hits the impact end, the portion of the rail connected to the impact end is supposed to feed through that channel, flattening and curling away from the road and the car, thereby slowing the vehicle. Harman contends that the redesign made some of the dimensions of the impact piece smaller, preventing it from feeding through the channel. It then functions like a spear, potentially piercing the vehicle.
Trinity contends that Harman’s actions are reprisals for a patent infringement action the company filed against him in 2011, which led Harman to lay off most of his employees and file for bankruptcy protection. Harman claims that, as part of that litigation, he took a closer look at the new design of the guardrail and saw the potential dangers. Harman is being represented by Boies, Schiller and Flexner, the law firm that build a reputation for taking on big defendants, such as Microsoft and MasterCard.
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