Judge: Guardrail manufacturer must pay $663 million for false claims

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The manufacturer of a guardrail system being blamed for numerous deaths has been ordered to pay more than $663 million for making false claims to the federal government.

A Texas judge issued his final judgement Tuesday in a lawsuit against Trinity Industries, Inc.

The Target 12 Investigators have been tracking this story for more than a year. Last May, we told you about numerous lawsuits that claimed the guardrails’ end terminals led to several deaths and serious injuries. We also introduced you to a victim who claimed he lost his legs in a crash involving one of these end terminals.

During the trial in October, the jury rendered a unanimous verdict that the company “knowingly made, used, or caused to be made or used, a false record or statement material to a false or fraudulent claim.”

The lawsuit was brought by complainant Joshua Harman, who claimed Trinity Industries made changes to its guardrails in 2005, but failed to inform the Federal Highway Administration as required by law.

The jury found Trinity Industries must pay $175 million in damages to the U.S. government for violating the False Claims Act.

Guardrail Dangers: Real-Life Cases &raquot;
Guardrail Dangers: Real-Life Cases »;

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Rodney Gilstrap tripled that penalty to $525 million, and tacked on a civil penalty of $8,250 for “each of the 16,771 false certifications Trinity made in connection with false claims for payment,” for a total of $663,360,750.

Trinity spokesperson Jeff Eller in response to the decision, saying the company believes “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,” Eller went on to say.

Since the federal government opted to not participate in the trial and left Harman with the full burden of prosecution, he will be awarded 30 percent of the total proceeds plus attorney fees, totaling more than $218 million. The government will receive the remaining $464 million.

Since our story first aired last May, some states have acted on the concerns surrounding the end terminals. Massachusetts, Nevada, Missouri and Virginia have each taken steps to stop using the guardrails.

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