Federal judge in Texas orders mediation in false-claims case involving highway guardrails

DALLAS – A federal judge has ordered mediation between a Texas company and a whistleblower who won a $175 million verdict over a design change in the company’s highway guardrails.

Critics say the change made it more likely that cars could be impaled if they hit either end of the guardrails head-on.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Rodney Gilstrap ordered Trinity Industries Inc. and the whistleblower to attend mediation with Duke University law professor Francis McGovern by Dec. 31.

A jury in Marshall, Texas, decided Oct. 20 that Trinity deceived government regulators by not disclosing a change in the design of caps at each end of the guardrails. The judge could triple the damages.

“Trinity continues to believe that the jury decision cannot and will not withstand legal scrutiny,” said spokesman Jeff Eller.

Lawyers for plaintiff Joshua Harman said they welcomed mediation. One of them, Nicholas Gravante, said Trinity could “cut its losses” if it would settle with Harman and immediately recall and replace the guardrail end caps that were the subject of the lawsuit.

The Federal Highway Administration called last week for more crash tests, and Trinity announced Friday that it would stop shipping its ET-Plus guardrail systems until the testing is done. Several states have stopped contractors from installing the guardrails. Trinity faces wrongful-death and injury lawsuits filed on behalf of vehicle occupants.