The family of an Illinois man who was killed in a car crash after being impaled by an allegedly defective guardrail has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the guardrail’s manufacturer, Trinity Industries of Texas.
Omar Artis, 21, had returned home from college to attend the funeral of his 25-year-old sister who had died of a rare disease. He was driving two of his relatives home when he apparently fell asleep at the wheel, veered off the road, and struck the guardrail.
But instead of folding in on itself and bringing the vehicle to a safe stop, Trinity’s ET-Plus guardrail allegedly malfunctioned and cut through the vehicle like a spear, fatally injuring Mr. Artis, who died a few hours later in the hospital.
According to the family’s lawsuit, the Trinity guardrail “penetrated the vehicle through the center grill and entered the passenger compartment.” The passengers in the car received minor injuries.
The lawsuit, filed in November in a Springfield, Illinois, federal court, is the latest in dozens of wrongful-death, personal-injury, and product liability complaints to be lodged against the guardrail maker.
In 2014, a federal jury found Trinity Industries liable for defrauding the Federal Highway Administration for changing the specs of its already-approved ET-Plus guardrail systems, allegedly to save money, and then failing to tell the agency about the alterations.
Joshua Harman, a guardrail installer from Virginia, filed the lawsuit under the whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act, which permits private parties to sue on behalf of the federal government.
The jury awarded the U.S. government $155 million, which triples under the False Claims Act to $525 million. In 2015, the judge added another $138 million in civil penalties for 16,771 false certifications, bringing Trinity’s total liability in the case to $663 million.
According to that lawsuit, sometime around 2005 Trinity shortened the height of its end terminals, reduced the size of the U-shaped chute that forms on impact, and shortened the width of the systems “exit gap.”
Although these changes involved stealing inches from the approved design, critics claim those missing inches cause the guardrails to jam when struck in certain ways, slicing the vehicle in an accident.
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