INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The Texas-based company that manufactures a widely criticized guardrail system is now the subject of another federal investigation, this time by the Department of Justice, I-Team 8 has learned.
While a spokeswoman for the Department of Justice would not confirm or deny the existence of the investigation, documents filed this week with the Securities Exchange Commission show that the guardrail company, Trinity Industries, received a subpoena on Tuesday from the U.S. Department of Justice through the U.S. Attorney of Massachusetts, seeking 16 years worth of documents related to the ET 2000 and ET Plus guardrails.
The latter of the two, the ET-Plus, was the subject of a massive whistle-blower lawsuit last year that ended with a Texas jury awarding a $175 million verdict to Joshua Harman, a guardrail competitor who blew the whistle on Trinity.
Harman alleged that Trinity failed to disclose a design change in 2005 to the Federal Highway Administration. Trinity, like many manufacturers, receives federal reimbursement funds when its devices are installed. The FHWA has since confirmed to reporters that Trinity failed to disclose the change.
That design change, lawsuits allege, can cause the guardrail head to jam up, forcing the metal guardrail to spear through cars and leading to reported deaths and injuries in several states.
All along, Trinity has defended its product, saying it remains approved by the federal government.
But Harman’s lawsuit prompted the company to withhold future shipments of the devices and led the FHWA to launch its own inquiry late last year. Last month, the FHWA confirmed that Trinity’s ET-Plus had passed a series of eight crash tests designed to re-examine if the devices were safe for U.S. highways. The FHWA’s examination of the devices continues and likely won’t conclude until mid-summer.
According to documents filed and obtained by I-Team 8 this week, Trinity claims it plans to cooperate with the Department of Justice’s probe. The SEC filing reads as follows:
“On April 28, 2015, Trinity Industries, Inc. (the “Company”) received a subpoena from the U.S. Department of Justice through the U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts. The subpoena requests documents from 1999 through the present relating to the ET 2000 and ET Plus guardrail end-terminal products. The Company intends to cooperate with this request.
The Company is also aware that multiple law firms have recently filed purported class action lawsuits against the Company and certain of its officers alleging violations of the federal securities laws related to its disclosures regarding the ET Plus guardrail end-terminal. The Company believes each of these lawsuits is without merit and intends to vigorously defend against all allegations. Additional lawsuits making similar or related allegations may be filed against the Company and/or its officers and directors.”
Indiana has more than 4,000 ET-Plus units on its highways and interstates. As I-Team 8 previously reported, while more than 32 states have banned the installation of the guardrails, Indiana has not. In fact, I-Team 8 has found that Indiana Department of Transportation crews continue to repair and replace damaged ET-Plus guardrails even while a Federal Highway Administration investigation is ongoing.
An email seeking a response from an INDOT spokesman on this latest federal inquiry was not returned Thursday.