June 16, 2015

Federal Judge more than triples jury verdict

guardrail-accident-lawyerJoshua Harman, the Virginia man at the center of a $663 million settlement with Trinity Industries, is walking away with $199 million after filing a qui tam lawsuit.  The award comes after a federal court in Texas more than tripled a $175 million verdict handed down by a jury last year and tacked on an additional civil penalty of $138 million.  Mr. Harman was awarded 30% of the settlement, the most allowed for whistleblowers under the federal False Claims Act.

In 2012, Mr. Harman filed a whistleblower lawsuit against Trinity Industries on behalf of the federal government.  His suit alleged Trinity Industries made modifications to its ET-Plus guardrail system without having the changes approved by federal safety regulators.  The ET-Plus guardrails are the end terminals of guardrails along highways.  The end terminals are supposed to “ribbon off” if struck head-on by a vehicle, reducing the damage and risk of serious injury or death to the driver. The ET-Plus guardrails, however, did not “ribbon off” and instead speared vehicles that struck the end terminals head-on.

Mr. Harman’s lawsuit also alleged Trinity did not properly test its redesigned ET-Plus guardrail system and allegedly shaved off metal for a key safety feature as a cost-cutting measure.  Trinity was fined $8,250 for each of its 16,711 false certifications it made to federal authorities about orders for the ET-Plus guardrail system.

Joshua Harman’s qui tam whistleblower lawsuit was filed under the False Claims Act.  Under the Act, citizens (known as relators) may file lawsuits on behalf of the federal government for fraud, waste, and abuse of federal contracts and grants.  Depending on the circumstances, relators are entitled to between 15% and 30% of money recovered, plus attorneys fees.  While The Cochran Firm, D.C. did not represent any of the parties involved in Mr. Harman’s suit against Trinity Industries, our firm does represent whistleblowers in qui tam False Claims Act lawsuits.