Guardrail investigation: Manufacturer liable for fraud

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- It was vindication for Joshua Harman, the man who blew the whistle on dangerous, potentially deadly guardrails found across the country.

Last week, a Texas jury found that Trinity Industries of Dallas defrauded the U.S. government by failing to disclose changes made to its guardrail end terminal known as the ET-Plus -- changes that would save the company $2 per guardrail.

The verdict could mean up to a billion dollars in damages for the company. Sixteen states have now taken action, banning the new use of the guardrails in question.

"It was a very positive verdict. They found fraud. The justice system spoke loud and clear," he said.

But Harman says his fight is far from over.

"We've got to get a product recall initiated and started so that the product can be removed. It's already been proven that fraud was committed to procure the approval," Harman said.

The guardrail is supposed to work by having the steel rail curl away from the car and its passengers.

But Harman says what can happen is the end terminal locks up, and the guardrail spears the vehicle. That's what happened in a crash in 2011 in San Bernardino County.

The Guntur family is suing Trinity.

"The guardrail completely pierced my van. It went from inside and came outside. I thought my wife was completely dead," said Vijay Guntur.

Trinity says it will appeal the verdict.

The Federal Highway Administration ignored Harman's warnings for years and continued to approve the device, even after learning of the design changes. The FHA is finally taking action, demanding that Trinity conduct new crash tests.

The federal agency is also asking all states, including California, to share any findings from state investigations on the devices.

A number of states have ordered a halt to the installation of the system in question pending the new federal tests. And the state of Virginia has required that they be removed. Well what about the state of California?

Officials at Caltrans tells Eyewitness News they are monitoring the issue closely, and once additional testing is complete, they will take any appropriate action.

"There's no question with the verdict in the federal court that the states are liable for any future injuries or fatalities that occur. And they are occurring every day," Harman said.

Harman says he won't back down until every one of the estimated half million ET-Plus end terminals is off the roads.

"This truly affects every living, breathing American that drives a car or doesn't. You might not drive a car, but some family member that you have does," Harman said. "So yes, this truly affects every living, breathing American."

The federal judge in the whistleblower lawsuit ordered both sides into mediation that will occur before he delivers the final judgment in the case.

Trinity says that it "continues to believe that the jury decision cannot and will not withstand legal scrutiny. We intend to follow the court instructions and attend mediation."

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