Guardrail maker hit with $663M in fines in fraud case - Cincinnati News, FOX19-WXIX TV

FOX19 NOW Investigates

Guardrail maker hit with $663M in fines in fraud case

(PHOTO: FOX19 NOW File) (PHOTO: FOX19 NOW File)
CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) -

A Texas federal court has ordered Trinity Industries to pay $663,360,750 after a jury found the company guilty of committing fraud against the U.S. government.

Last November, FOX19 NOW Investigates showed hundreds of the company's potentially dangerous guardrail heads across the Tri-State.

The federal court order handed down today awarded Joshua Harman, the whistleblower who sued Trinity Industries over the guardrails, $218,021,090.75 from the company. The company also owes the U.S. Government a sum of $464,352,525.

Harman sued Trinity as a lone taxpayer, using his own money to fight the company though his false claims lawsuit. The federal government refused to intervene and take up the case on Harman's behalf. Despite the government leaving Harman to fight on his own, the government will reap nearly a half-billion dollars in damages from Harman's case.

"We believe the evidence clearly shows that no fraud was committed," said Trinity Industries in a statement. "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. “

Harman found major structural changes to the company's guardrail head and sued, claiming those changes took lives and maimed hundreds of people across the nation. The federal jury found Trinity Industries “knowingly made, used, or caused to be made or used, a false record or statement material to a false or fraudulent claim,” the order stated.

The jury unanimously awarded the government $175,000,000 in damages after finding the changed Trinity Industries made to the end terminals were in secret and never disclosed to the Federal Highway Administration. The changes were to an already approved part the FHWA approved for reimbursement in all 50 states.

The final order allowed the trial judge to increase the jury's $175,000,000 verdict to $525,000,000, which happened when the court released the final order Tuesday afternoon. The payment will come from Trinity Industries, Inc. and Trinity Highway Products, LLC—a Texas-based guardrail maker with two plants in Ohio.

The order also included another $138,360,750 in civil penalties for each of the 16,771 false certifications made from Trinity to the FHWA for payment.

"Trinity could have prevented this judgment with a product recall and a fraction of the damages," said Steven Lawrence, the attorney for Harman. "Instead, they have repeatedly chosen to subject the public to continued danger and shareholders to incalculable risks. They can still save lives by simply doing the right thing by recalling the modified ET-Plus."

In November, the Ohio Department of Transportation's Director Jerry Wray told FOX19 he had no plans to remove the modified ET-Plus from the state's highways. Wray told our investigative unit, “We don't know there's a problem. We have no evidence that there actually is a problem.”

Wray's statement came as more than 30 states pulled the ET-Plus from its approved product list. Days after the interview, ODOT suspended new installations of the ET-Plus, although we saw the modified ET-Plus being installed along an stretch of I-71 in Morrow County, Ohio.

Harman told FOX19, despite the Trinity fines, he won't stop fighting to get the modified ET-Plus off the nation's highways until the FHWA orders a total product recall. A recall would force states to remove every modified ET-Plus and destroy any left in inventory.

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