Two safety advocacy groupshave begun seeking access to previously sealed files concerning possible safety hazards posed by highway guardrail end caps manufactured by a division of Trinity Industries, a Dallas-based manufacturer. The Center for Auto Safety and Massachusetts-based The Safety Institute, based in Massachusetts, filed a request on Thursday asking a federal judge to unseal court records of a trial involving an accusation made by Joshua Harman, a guardrail installer employed in Virginia, in which he said that new versions of the ET-Plus guardrail are likely to jam, causing potentially fatal damage when struck.
Guardrails are designed to absorb impact, crumpling when struck by a car and helping cushion a collision. However, whistleblower accounts say that the ET-Plus is prone to jamming, causing the guardrail to remain firm and strike cars sharply, greatly increasing the risk of severe damage and injuries.
Trinity denies the accusation of faulty end caps, defending its modified device, which was approved for installation by the Federal Highway Administration in 2005.
The previous trial, during which the requested sealed information was produced, was declared a mistrial in mid-July by Judge Rodney Gilstrap of the U.S. District Court in Marshall, Texas, after several days of disagreement among jury members. Concerns regarding the integrity of the trial included Judge Gilstrap’s concerns over Trinity’s Highway Products division president Gregg Mitchell pressuring Dean Siking not to testify, a claim which Mitchell denies.
Among the sealed documents pertaining to the Trinity guardrail lawsuit, the safety groups are seeking the testimony of Dr. Siking, a professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham who previously designed Trinity end caps. Clarence Ditlow, Executive Director for the Center for Auto Safety, expressed interest in the sealed testimony as part of the decision on whether or not to request the removal of the end caps in question. His group is also conducting research into all types of guardrail end caps, and they believe their safety reports could benefit from the previously sealed information. Their findings should be ready to release by the end of the year. Should the ET-Plus guardrail be recalled, Trinity Highway Products could face up to $1 billion in recall costs and damages.
If you were injured by a defective guardrail, contact the Lubbock product liability attorneys at Liggett Law Group for a free case consultation.