Trinity Industries Guardrail Lawsuit Whistleblower Awarded $175 Million

car-accidentA jury recently sided with Josh Harman in a $175 million case in which Trinity Industries Inc. had been charged with making false claims to federal regulators in 2005 after making changes to its guardrail end caps, which are used on many American highways. The federal whistleblower likely utilized the services of a Houston auto accident lawyer as Trinity is based in Dallas, and the case was decided in Marshall, Texas.

The ET-Plus is the guardrail end treatment in question. It has been added to highways throughout the United States after it was changed at least nine years ago, and lawsuits such as this one have since been filed in various locales throughout the country by truck accident attorney clients in Houston and elsewhere. According to these lawsuits, the newer version of the guardrail fails to perform properly and has caused at least 12 accidents involving vehicles that have hit them after running off the road.

Although these caps are supposed to collapse away from the crashing vehicle, those who have consulted with people such as 18 wheeler accident lawyers have claimed that the ET-Plus guardrails instead pierce the vehicle and have caused at least one fatality. This is due to a reduction of their feeder chutes from 5 inches to 4 as this often causes the guardrails to get stuck inside the guide chute.

Harman has also claimed that this shrinkage has likely decreased the chances that these guardrails can be reused following a crash, allowing Trinity to sell more new terminals than had previously been the case.

According to a study conducted by the University of Alabama at Birmingham and funded by the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission and the Safety Institute, the ET-Plus guardrail is 2.9 times more likely to cause a death and 1.4 times more likely to result in a severe injury than Trinity’s earlier guardrail model, the ET-2000.

In July, a mistrial was declared in this case after it was alleged that a Trinity official had attempted to intimidate Dean Sicking, a UAB professor who led that study. The company has denied those allegations.

Trinity Industries stated that Crash tests conducted by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute have shown that these guardrails are safe enough to be approved by the Federal Highway Administration. Trinity also continues to stand by its product, stating that it has a “high degree of confidence in (its) performance and integrity.”

However, in lieu of this jury decision, the federal government sent Trinity a letter, asking it to conduct further crash testing on this guardrail and stating that a crash test plan must be submitted to the Federal Highway Administration by Oct. 31. If this is not done, the organization may deem that the use of the ET-Plus is no longer eligible for federal reimbursement when state highway departments purchase them.

Earlier in 2014, four states – Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada and Virginia –removed these ET-Plus guardrails from their lists of state-approved products, consequently banning them from any future use on roadways in those states. Nevada did so after Trinity did not disclose a change in the product while the other three states cited safety concerns as the reasons behind their decisions.

Harman originally sued Trinity in 2012 on behalf of the government, utilizing the qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act. The company may end up paying $1 billion as the False Claims Act states that a guilty party will pay three times proved damages and possibly attorneys’ fees and fines as well.

Trinity has hinted that it will appeal this ruling as the company released a statement following the verdict that stated that “Trinity believes the decision cannot and will not withstand legal scrutiny” and that Harman’s allegations are “false and misleading.”

Posted in Traffic Accidents | Tagged , , | Comments Off

Unsafe Trucks Spur Increase in Traffic Fatalities for Southeast Texas

18-wheelers-150x132Despite falling traffic fatality rates across the U.S., the death rate for motorists on the streets and highways of Texas continues to rise. This trend is especially evident in the southeast portion of the state where recent high-profile accidents claimed the lives of a number of drivers and passengers. Many of the worst car crashes involved large commercial vehicles, including 18-wheelers and large cargo trucks. For those injured in these catastrophic accidents, working with a qualified Texas 18-wheeler accident attorney can often provide support during the recovery process and can ensure adequate compensation for medical bills and other costs incurred as a result of the crash.

Looking for Answers

According to statistics available from the U.S. Department of Transportation, deaths resulting from auto accidents in Texas have increased by eight percent between 2009 and 2013. Fatality accidents involving 18-wheelers, however, increased by more than 50 percent during the same period, rising from 352 deaths in 2009 to 532 accident deaths in the 2013 calendar year. Transportation experts and public officials have attributed this rise in traffic fatalities to a number of factors, including the following:

In some cases, the weight and bulk of semi-trailer trucks can create forward momentum too powerful to be stopped in time to avoid a crash. The forces involved in these collisions can be extreme and can result in debilitating injuries or death for passengers and drivers of smaller vehicles struck by 18-wheelers and cargo trucks even at moderate speeds.

Holding Trucking Companies Accountable

Many transportation firms fail to maintain acceptable safety standards when prepping trucks and assigning drivers for their routes. Increased demand for trucking services due to the current boom conditions in the Texas oil industry has led some unqualified companies to enter the transportation marketplace. In April 2014, Vilma Marenco lost her life when an 18-wheeler truck driver ran a red light and struck her vehicle. Investigators subsequently determined that the company that employed the driver was not licensed to provide services in the state of Texas, had received numerous tickets for defective and unsafe equipment and had failed an audit by the Texas Department of Public Safety. Marenco’s family has retained the services of a Beaumont truck accident lawyer to pursue legal action against the company and to hold it accountable for its gross negligence in failing to maintain its vehicles to an acceptable standard of safety.

Money-Saving Tactics Cost Lives

Lack of training is another major contributing factor for many trucking accidents. In many cases, companies cut corners in both training drivers and in maintaining their vehicles in response to high demand for their services and the expense and downtime involved in these vital activities. By cutting corners in this way, unscrupulous trucking companies can realize short-term savings at the expense of lost lives and damage to people and property on Texas roadways. For those victimized by the willful negligence of transportation companies and 18-wheeler drivers, seeking the help of professional Texas truck accident lawyers can allow some measure of compensation and closure after these devastating accidents.

Working with a legal firm that specializes in representing victims of 18-wheeler accidents can provide individuals and their families with the help needed to achieve fair compensation for their injuries and losses. An experienced 18-wheeler accident attorney can help to even the playing field to hold even large transportation firms responsible for their negligence both in and out of the courtroom setting. By retaining the services of these legal professionals, accident victims can obtain fair compensation for their losses and can help to ensure safer roads throughout the state of Texas.

Posted in Truck Accident Facts | Tagged , , | Comments Off

Passenger Train Collides with Freight Train, 5 Critically Injured

track-wreckForty-four passengers and crew have been impacted as a result of a train accident near Fayetteville, Ark., on Oct. 16. Of those, 39 were able to walk away from the accident while five were critically injured. One of the injured people was a conductor; he was airlifted away from the accident after having suffered what are believed to be injuries to his back. This individual may need to contact a FELA claim lawyer after he is treated to make sure his legal rights are protected.

The two trains collided near Brentwood, a sparsely populated unincorporated community located about 15 miles south of Fayetteville, a city of 70,000 that is home to the University of Arkansas. A passenger train had stalled on the tracks before a second train that had been sent to assist struck it head on at about 10:40 a.m. CDT.

Fourteen of those who were hurt that morning were taken to Washington Regional Medical Center, a 366-bed acute care hospital located in Fayetteville. According to spokeswoman Gina Maddox, all of them were in stable condition hours after the accident, an improvement on the situation earlier in the day as all of the critically injured people had been sent here. However, each of these injured individuals will likely still be looking for the services of a railroad accident attorney in the coming hours and days.

Between Brentwood and West Fork, a small city with a population of 2,000 that is located about 8 miles to the north of Brentwood, U.S. 71 was completely blocked off due to the large number of emergency vehicles that crowded the road that morning. These included vehicles operated by Washington County Emergency Services, a hazardous materials unit from Fayetteville and a number of local fire departments.

According to the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, the road reopened at 1:30 p.m., a little less than three hours after the FELA railroad accident and about 90 minutes after the final injured parties had been taken to nearby medical facilities.

The collision appeared to have taken place between U.S. 71 and the train tracks that are located to the west of it in a wooded area. In that general area, the West Fork of the White River runs near the railroad tracks. However, it was initially unclear if that waterway was affected by the 300 gallons of diesel fuel that appeared to have leaked as a result of the accident. Four railway cars and two engines were damaged in the crash as well.

The train that had been stopped on the tracks was an excursion train that is regularly operated by the Arkansas and Missouri Railroad. This company is based in Springdale, Ark., a city located immediately north of Fayetteville. According to the organization’s website, a train departed Springdale at 8 a.m. for a 135-mile “scenic excursion through the Boston Mountains with a three-hour layover in downtown Van Buren for lunch and shopping” before returning. The round-trip journey was expected to take eight hours.

The Arkansas and Missouri Railroad is a Class III railroad that offers rail car freight business in addition to scenic passenger journeys on refurbished antique cars such as the cars that were taken on this day. In fact, this company owns the tracks on which the accident occurred as well as the second train that had been attempting to provide support for the first one.

The passenger train operations manager for the company, Brenda Rouse, did not provide further comment on the collision other than to say that it was under investigation.

Individuals from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board were expected to arrive in northwest Arkansas later in the day to investigate the crash as well.

Posted in Train Wreck | Tagged , , | Comments Off

Regulators Were Aware of Questionable Transport of Oil Before Accidents

Train FireFrequently, big companies bend the rules. Examples include big pharmaceutical firms, which routinely release medications without adequate testing. Truckers are known for driving too many hours in too few days. Now, the surge in moving oil across the United States and Canada by railway has come under close scrutiny. It seems railway cars used on these “mobile pipelines” have been overloaded and mislabeled, which has led to explosions. Those explosions have captured the eye of many a railroad accident attorney and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). It seems giant corporations are at it again. They bend the rules regardless of how great the consequences may be. Profits seem to be more important to these companies than human lives.

Even as lawmakers scramble to establish new rules regarding the mile-long trains hauling oil, NBC News has obtained documentation proving that regulators knew that these train cars were being overloaded and mislabeled since at least 2011. That was 18 months before 47 people were killed in Lac Megantic, Quebec, during the first accident involving these vehicles loaded to the gills with highly flammable oil.

In Western North Dakota, oil production has increased mightily in Bakken. Now, some 1 million barrels of oil per day are shipped via “unit trains” that roll directly through U.S. and Canadian cities. This is predominantly due to the lack of a pipeline infrastructure. Observers have said that not enough attention has been given to ensuring the safety of these pipelines on steel wheels. Certainly, railroad injury attorneys have noticed and are lining up to file cases against the negligent oil companies that mislabel their products as Packing Group III when the shipments are really in the more flammable Packing Groups I or II. The overloading also makes the rail cars more susceptible to incidents that cause the oil to explode. Some of the rail cars were just unsafe for oil transportation.

Oil trains have derailed in such widely scattered locations as North Dakota, Alabama and New Brunswick, Canada. Fortunately, these accidents did not cause any serious injuries. However, nearly 1,500 people who live in Casselton, N.D., were forced to flee their homes after an oil train crash on December 30, 2013, caused giant fireballs when over 400,000 gallons of crude oil were spilled.

NBC used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain documents that proved regulators were conscious of these issues for years. As early as October 2011 and June 2012, the FRA performed inspections on oil transportation and the increased number of loading operations in Bakken. The report, which was called “North Dakota–The Next Hazardous Materials Frontier,” stated that the train cars being used were “out of specification” for the job of hauling oil. These cars were also being overloaded and sent on their way in the hopes that nothing bad would occur.

A local consultant on chemical safety and railroad transportation said that the railways were being used because they were ready and convenient. Companies are clamoring for tank cars to ship the oil, which has led to the oil being shipped in an unsafe fashion. The shortage of available, safe cars was described as a “major concern.” He also said that it is obvious there is inadequate infrastructure and ineffective regulation. Inspectors wrote that the reason these unsafe cars were being used is that the pressure to ship the oil is greater than the risk of failing to get the crude to the refineries.

After fines were levied against companies that were responsible for overloaded and mislabeled cars derailing and causing evacuations, the companies began searching for ways to bolster the cars against future spills, but as train accident attorneys can attest, the cattle have already left the barn. New laws may be enacted, but there has already been plenty of damage caused by another issue of major industry’s greed.

Posted in Railroad Oil Tanker Cars | Tagged , , | Comments Off

The Staggering Economic Costs of Auto Accidents

car-accidentIn its October 2014 edition of Vital Signs, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) presented in-depth information regarding the financial costs of auto accidents on the U.S. economy. According to the CDC, car crashes accounted for over 2.5 million visits to the emergency room and 200,000 hospitalizations in 2012 alone. These injuries are expected to add up to $18 billion in medical costs over the lifetime of the victims and to result in $33 billion in lost work and productivity. For accident victims in Houston, Texas who are affected by these catastrophic car crashes, enlisting the help of a Houston auto accident lawyer can provide added help in obtaining compensation for their injuries and losses.

Texas Residents at Higher Risk

Statistics released by the CDC in 2010 indicated that the state of Texas ranked second in financial losses incurred due to auto accidents with $3.5 billion in costs directly attributable to these incidents. The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) recorded more than 3,300 traffic-related fatalities in 2013. When the cost of these deaths is factored in to the other economic losses suffered by victims, employers and families in Texas, TxDOT estimates the total financial damages caused by vehicle accidents at $25.7 billion for the 2013 calendar year. These losses represent a serious blow to the economic health of the state of Texas and to the U.S. as a whole.

Outlining the Economic Damages

The costs of a single auto accident can comprise a wide range of expenditures, losses and damages. Some of the most common expenses involved in an accident include the following:

• Repair or replacement of vehicles damaged in a crash
• Damage to contents, including cargo for semi-truck trailers and other large trucks
• Rental car expenditures during the repair process
• Medical expenses for emergency room visits, hospitalizations, physical therapy and other rehabilitation regimens
• Long-term nursing care in the patient’s home or in a skilled-care facility
• Lost wages due to missed work time
• Reduced earning potential for seriously injured or disabled accident victims
• Funeral expenses and lifetime loss of earnings for those killed in auto accidents

When all of these costs are figured into the economic losses sustained during a single calendar year, the resulting sum is astronomical. To put these costs into perspective, the total value of Texas oil production each year is estimated to be $100 billion. The financial losses sustained annually due to automobile accidents in the state equal approximately one-fourth of that figure.

Saving Lives and Reducing Economic Costs

A few simple steps could significantly reduce the number of fatalities and the economic losses sustained due to auto accidents.

• Seat belts save lives and reduce the severity of injuries for those involved in car crashes. Increased enforcement of seat belt laws already on the books could potentially save millions over the course of a single year.
• Mandatory implementation of systems designed to provide alerts to drowsy drivers could prevent accidents caused by fatigue. This is especially critical for drivers of 18-wheeler trucks who spend many hours on the road during a typical week.
• Improved education for teen drivers that highlights the dangers of distracted driving and speeding.
• Tougher penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs could reduce the number of accidents caused by these activities.

Learning to drive defensively can also help Texas drivers to avoid accidents and to reduce the overall personal and economic costs associated with these traumatic events.

If you have been financially impacted by an auto accident, consulting a qualified Houston personal injury attorney can help you obtain compensation for your losses and injuries. An experienced 18-wheeler accident lawyer can provide guidance and support in navigating the insurance claim process and in achieving a fair settlement that takes into account all the economic costs of these serious accidents for you and your family.

Posted in Traffic Accidents | Tagged , , | Comments Off