Yesterday, a court order to unseal the entire court file in the massive whistleblower case against Trinity Guardrails (maker of now infamous ET Plus guardrails) will likely save many lives. This file contains literally hundreds of sealed pleadings and exhibits relating to a dangerous highway guardrail that’s been linked to dozens of deaths and injuries. The court also held that all of the testimony and exhibits from a recent trial of the case must also remain open to the public, effective immediately.
Below is an excerpt from the Public Justice website*:
The [court order to unseal all of the files for public access] is so important in this case. A major highway guardrail manufacturer, Trinity, will not be able to hide the fact that it kept its changed guardrail design from the federal government and that that guardrail design is unsafe. The victory also means that the public has access to facts that will be critical for making the case that the federal government should withdraw its approval of these guardrails. And it’s ammunition for states seeking to phase out and remove these lethal guardrails from our highways.
Trinity was sued for defrauding the federal government by changing the design of its guardrail end terminals, not conducting appropriate crash tests on the new design, and not telling the federal government about the changes—meaning that the guardrails remained on the Federal Highway Administration’s list of approved guardrails. A jury found that Trinity defrauded the government to the tune of $175 million.
Because of the design change, when the terminal is hit by a car, instead of absorbing the energy of the crash and slowing the vehicle, the guardrail jams and turns into a potentially lethal spear. Drivers and their passengers have been decapitated, their limbs have been severed, and they have been stabbed by these guardrails. A study by Public Justice client, The Safety Institute found that the redesigned Trinity guardrail was 2.86 to 3.95 times more likely to be involved in a lethal accident and 1.36 to 1.95 times more likely to be involved in an accident with serious injury than Trinity’s older design.
In the case against Trinity, huge swaths of court records—including crash test documents—were filed under seal. On behalf of The Safety Institute and the Center for Auto Safety, consumer protection attorneys sought to intervene to unseal the records. Although our motion to intervene was denied, our efforts to unseal the records helped to convince the court to do the right thing.
*NOTE: Stritmatter Kessler Whelan partner Brad J. Moore currently serves as President Elect of Public Justice, the country’s largest public interest law firm.