7 Investigates: Trial surrounding guardrail safety begins in East Texas

7 Investigates: Trial surrounding guardrail safety begins in East Texas
An ET-Plus 4" guardrail is damaged on Interstate 20 near FM 450 in Hallsville. (Source: KLTV)
An ET-Plus 4" guardrail is damaged on Interstate 20 near FM 450 in Hallsville. (Source: KLTV)

MARSHALL, TX (KLTV) - The whistleblower trial over guardrails that some are calling dangerous is continuing in Marshall as a federal review is beginning into the safety of the product.

The trial is between Josh Harman, a competitor to Trinity Industries, the guardrail manufacturer. Harman claims he found the company changed their design by one inch and the results have been dangerous and deadly. The guardrail has been the center of numerous lawsuits across the country - including one involving the death of Waskom resident Gerardo Munoz.

A jury was seated in the whistleblower trial on Monday, and testimony has been ongoing. Lawyers for Trinity tried to get the trial halted on numerous motions ranging from decisions made at an appeals court and even claiming


had tainted the potential jury pool.

shows the design modifications may have been made as a cost-saving measure. The document from Trinity engineers show the design change would save two dollars per end terminal, adding up to $50,000 a year.

Harman claims the design change forces the end of the guardrail to not work properly and send the rail inside a vehicle.

The agency that initially approved the product for use across the country, the Federal Highway Administration, has asked state departments of transportation for information relating to the performance of the ET-Plus guardrail in the field. Specifically the FHA asks DOTs to "pay particular attention to all crashes involving these devices."

Three states -- Massachusetts, Missouri and Nevada -- have temporarily halted use of the product. Virginia has launched its own review asking for information from Trinity before they make a decision on the product's future.

Officials with the Texas Department of Transportation still say the product remains on Texas roadways and on the state's list of acceptable products.

In a statement, TxDOT said:

"The ET-Plus remains an approved product per the Federal Highway Administration; accordingly TxDOT will continue to allow its use at this time. We are monitoring the performance of these end treatments and currently have no conclusive data to establish they are creating a safety hazard to the driving public. We will continue to stay in contact with all our state and federal partners to gauge if further action is warranted."

KLTV also requested crash testing done after 2005 on the ET-Plus guardrail from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, the agency that monitors highway safety in the state. Four videos were delivered showing crash tests performed in Brazos County between 2005 and 2010. One test involved impact with the rail, while the other three tests impacted the end terminal. None of the tests showed the rail impacting the test vehicle.

Lawyers on the case against Trinity still say the device fails in the field, creating a dangerous scenario on many of America's highways. Trinity's lawyers maintain their client's product is safe and should continue to be used by state DOTs.

Testimony is expected to continue through the week in Marshall.

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