Feds Order New Crash Tests in Light of Trinity ET-Plus Defects

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At The Reiff Law Firm our experienced personal injury attorneys are dedicated to following the latest developments in defective products that can injure or kill Pennsylvanians. Thus we began following the Trinity ET-Plus defective guardrail situation back in September 2014. Then, the situation was still developing through several whistle-blowers and personal injury suits had sounded the alarm regarding the unauthorized changes to the endcap’s design. Then, in October, a Texas jury found Trinity Industries liable for fraud in a whistle-blower lawsuit due to the undisclosed changes made to the guardrails.

Since that time, the matter has developed further. The remainder of this blog post will explain the problems with the guardrail end piece and discuss the steps federal and state regulators have taken since that time.

What Steps Have Regulators Taken to get a Handle On This Problem?

As discussed in previous posts, up until the Texas jury verdict federal regulators had taken a deferential approach to the issue and had accepted Trinity’s explanations at face value. However, public furor following the fraud trial verdict forced the FWHA to change their approach and act on concerns that had lingered within the department for several years. At the time of our last report, FWHA had requested that Trinity Industries present the regulator with a new crash testing test regime so that the regulator could determine if the model was functioning appropriately. Trinity had 10 days to provide its plans for testing from the FWHA’s October 21, 2014, letter.

In November, FHWA approved Trinity’s plan for running new crash tests on the ET-Plus system. Those tests are currently slated to be completed by the end of  January.

However, while the FWHA accepted Trinity’s testing standards, the testing regime selected by the company is not without its critics. Senator Blumenthal and a number of other Congressional leaders believe that the tests do not go far enough or that they address all safety concerns. Senator Blumenthal, the chairman of the Senate’s Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security, has vowed that he will continue to pressure the regulator to require more stringent tests. For its part, the FWHA responded to lawmakers by stating that it would consider requiring additional tests if it determined that the risks presented by the device were more extensive than originally thought or if vulnerabilities went beyond the scope of the current review.

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Virginia Attorney General Files Suit Against Guardrail Manufacturer

Action regarding the undisclosed guardrail changes hasn’t been limited to the federal level. State officials and state regulators have also sounded the alarm regarding the dangers presented by the defective guardrail end caps. The Virginia Attorney General has filed a lawsuit against Trinity Industries claiming that the company, “sold the Commonwealth [of Virginia] thousands of unapproved products that had not been properly tested to ensure they would keep motorists safe.” In a public statement, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring stated, “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.”

Virginia is the first state to require that these defective end caps be removed from service along the state’s highways and roadways. The filed complaint reads, in part, “Trinity … made millions in revenue from this defective, unapproved and improperly tested product at the expense of Virginia and her taxpayers. [Virginia Department of Transportation] is preparing a contingency plan to identify and replace these products if necessary and appropriate testing and analysis show them to be unsafe. If any replacements must occur, we’re going to make sure that Trinity, not Virginia taxpayers, pay the bill.”

Trinity has denied the allegations. It expressed its displeasure at the lawsuit and expressed that the company was currently performing the 8 tests requested by federal regulators. It states that it has provided the state of Virginia with all testing data that has been requested.

How Are Big of a Risk Trinity Guardrails are to Pennsylvania Drivers?

Unfortunately, drivers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Trinity Industries-produced guardrails are in use in both states. According to one Pennsylvania Department of Transportation spokesperson, there are more than 9,000 Trinity guardrails in use in the state. However, there is a silver-lining for Pennsylvanians. That is, as of October 31st, 2014,  PennDoT suspended the installation of additional ET-Plus end terminal systems. The ban on open-ended and contractors are not permitted to use these parts until further notice is provided by PennDoT. The letter emphasizes that any ET-Plus systems that were on-site but not installed, are not to be used and a different approved system should be substituted. Furthermore, the letter directs contractors to replace damaged end caps with an alternative approved system should the part become damaged.

New Jersey Department of Transportation officials has also banned the guardrail end piece from further installations in New Jersey. In early November 2014, NJ DOT banned the utilization of the Trinity ET-Plus guardrail end terminal on current construction projects and maintenance work. The New Jersey Turnpike Authority, the organization that oversees the New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway, has also banned the use of the allegedly defective part.

More Than 30 States Ban New Et-Plus Installations

Virginia was the first state to ban new installations of the ET-Plus guardrail piece. Since that time, the department of transportation in more than half of states has either banned the installation of the part or enacted a temporary moratorium. In all, more than 30 states have already banned the guardrail piece. These states include:

  • Arizona
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Mexico
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

Virginia is also the first state to mandate the removal of the defective end terminal systems. While other states have not yet taken this step, it is a safe bet that more will do so if crash test results reveal additional problems with the end terminals or if high profile injuries occur.

Put our Defective Product and Personal Injury Lawyers to Work For You

If you have been in a serious car accident, you are likely already facing catastrophic injuries like a TBI or broken bones or possibly the death of a loved one. When the injuries produced by your already unfortunate accident is compounded by a defective and dangerous guardrail or other equipment, you are likely to face complex questions of liability and defendants who will engage in blame-shifting. At The Reiff Law Firm we have handled situations like these for more than 34 years. An aggressive and strategic Berks County car accident lawyer can fight for the compensation you deserve for your severe injuries. To schedule a free and confidential defective ET-Plus guardrail legal consultation, call (215) 246-9000 today.

 

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