Guardrail Manufacturer to Halt Device Sales Amid Safety Concerns

Company found to have defrauded the government about road-lining safety system.

ByABC News
October 25, 2014, 3:53 PM

— -- Trinity Industries is halting sales of its controversial ET-Plus guardrail system, a device meant to protect motorists across the country that instead has been blamed by accident victims for dozens of injuries and deaths.

The move came late Friday in response to a request by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to conduct crash tests on the device or face suspension of its eligibility for sale. Earlier this week Trinity lost a civil trial in Texas in which the jury found the company had defrauded the government by misrepresenting changes made to the guardrail nearly a decade ago.

“In light of FHWA’s request, the right thing to do is to stop shipping the product until the additional testing has been completed,” Gregg Mitchell, President of Trinity Highway Products, wrote in a press release. "We have confidence in the ET-Plus System as designed and crash tested by Texas A&M Transportation Institute. It has met all tests previously requested by FHWA. We take the safety of the products we manufacture very seriously."

The company says it will work with the FHWA on further crash testing and will not ship any more ET-Plus units until testing is completed.

The announcement came at the end of a week that saw more states suspend the installation of the popular end terminal pending further investigation, a demand by the FHWA to further crash test the ET-Plus, and a mammoth jury verdict in the federal whistleblower case in Marshall, Texas. In that case, Trinity was found to have defrauded the federal government and has been ordered to pay $175 million.

At the center of the case were modifications made by Trinity Industries in 2005 to the design of guardrail end terminals used alongside many roads from coast to coast, and the company’s failure at the time to disclose all the changes to the federal government or any state transportation departments.

The modified guardrail, called the ET-Plus, was the subject of an ABC News “20/20” investigation in September that looked into allegations from crash victims that the modified guardrail can malfunction when struck from the front by their vehicles’. Rather than ribboning out and absorbing the impact as designed, the guardrails “locked up” and speared straight through the cars, severing the motorists’ limbs in some cases.

The whistleblower in the case against Trinity, a competitor of the company's who uncovered damning documents indicating the company made the changes to its guardrail end terminal to save money, told ABC News today that he believes the company's decision to stop selling the ET-Plus is just one more step to a total recall of the product from all U.S. highways.

"We are getting closer to that product recall," said Josh Harman. "A product recall is something that just has to happen, because too many lives have already been lost."

In addition to their promise to work with the government, Trinity has indicated it will appeal the Texas court's decision in the whistleblower case, saying the ruling "will not withstand legal scrutiny."