The ongoing safety fight over a specific type of guardrail end terminals (not necessarily pictured above) has reached its first of perhaps many verdicts. Trinity Industries, makers of the ET-Plus, has been found guilty of defrauding the federal government under the False Claims Act. Specifically, the company was accused of making a design change to its product and not advising the Federal Highway Administration about the revision for seven years. According to The New York Times, the jury awarded $175 million in the case. However, that amount will be tripled to $525 million under federal law.

According to the lawsuit, the company's alteration to the design sometime in 2005 allegedly allowed vehicles to spear into the end of the rail, rather than deforming around them. Also, Trinity didn't tell the FHA about the change until 2012. According to The New York Times, a competitor was the one that found the revision and brought the case forward as a whistle-blower. The jury award will be split between this person and the government.

As previously covered by Autoblog, Trinity's ET-Plus end terminal design was shown in one study to potentially be nearly three times more likely to be invoked in a fatal crash than an earlier product from the company. Nevada, Missouri, and Massachusetts have all banned the purchasing more of them, and Virginia has begun an investigation.

Trinity plans to appeal the ruling, but it could be just the beginning of action against the company. The judge in the case still must determine the number of false claims under the act, and each one could cost between $5,000 and $12,000. There are also a number of other lawsuits alleging deaths or injuring, including lost limbs, because of the design.

In a followup report, the Times revealed that the Federal Highway Administration has mandated additional testing of Trinity's ET-Plus guardrail head and that federal officials be present for those tests. Failure to comply would revoke that component's eligibility for federal funds, a move which many will be wondering the government agency has not already taken.

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