Guardrail manufacturer Trinity Industries Inc. has settled a product liability lawsuit brought by a North Carolina man who claims that the company’s unapproved guardrail alterations resulted in a defective product that malfunctioned in a crash and severed his legs.
Plaintiff Jay Scott Traylor, who filed the suit in February 2014, reached a settlement with Trinity the day before his case was to go to trial. Trinity informed Dallas County, Texas, District Judge Eric Moye of the settlement after it was agreed upon Monday, May 15.
According to the complaint, Mr. Traylor struck a Trinity ET-Plus guardrail on Interstate 40 in North Carolina. But instead of folding in on itself and safely bring his vehicle to a stop, it malfunctioned and the rails skewered the driver’s side door, severing Mr. Traylor’s legs.
He alleges that his injuries would not have occurred had the guardrail had been made according to the original design specifications for which it earned federal approval. But at some point between 2000 and 2005, Trinity secretly altered the guardrail design by shortening the exit gap on the end terminals, reducing the length of the chute to the head by a foot, and inserting the rails into the heads rather than welding them flush.
According to Law360, Mr. Traylor alleges that Trinity sought the Federal Highway Administration’s approval for other design changes it made to the guardrails but never sought approval for the alterations that allegedly diminished the device’s performance.
Details of the settlement remain confidential, but Law360 reported that Mr. Traylor sought compensatory damages for medical care, lost wages, injuries and mental anguish, as well as punitive damages and pre- and post-trial judgment interest.
In 2014, a False Claims Act lawsuit against Trinity Industries over the guardrails went to trial and resulted in a Texas jury ordering the manufacturer to pay the U.S. $175 million, which automatically tripled to $525 million under the provisions of the Act. It was the largest recovery ever in the U.S. resulting from a whistleblower’s False Claims Act lawsuit.
The following year, U.S. District Judge Rodney Gilstrap assessed an additional $138 million in penalties against Trinity, pushing the company’s liability for the guardrails to $663 million. The case is currently in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals where Trinity is asking for a new trial in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Escobar ruling, which established new standards for determining whether a defendant’s regulatory violations are serious enough to warrant liability under the False Claims Act.