By Leah M. Nicholls
Highway guardrails are big business. And they are also important safety devices: The wrong guardrail design can mean the difference between life and death, between walking away from a car crash and losing a leg. But one of the biggest guardrail manufacturers, Trinity Industries, Inc., has been trying to hide key facts about the safety of its most popular guardrail by blocking public access to court records in a huge whistleblower suit down in Texas that yielded a multimillion dollar verdict against the company.
We’ve been fighting to unseal those records for over a year, and Trinity has been fighting tooth and nail every step of the way. But guess what? In what is great news for anyone who cares about the safety of our nation’s roadways, those records are now finally available for public review because the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit just rejected Trinity’s request to keep the documents secret.
This is big news, because the case literally involves a matter of life and death. The whistleblower who filed the suit alleged that the company had lied to the federal government about secret changes to guardrail design of its guardrail end terminal that effectively turned the guardrail into a lethal spear that can pierce a vehicle and its occupants. Trinity lost after a jury trial, and was ordered to pay $663 million for its cover-up. That decision is currently on appeal. (To hear from some of the victims and to see how the design problems impact the guardrail’s performance, check out this ABC story.)