Lawsuit alleges Texas company’s guardrails put Virginia drivers at risk of death

Posted at 11:41 PM, Dec 11, 2014

RICHMOND, Va. -- A lawsuit filed by Virginia's attorney general against a Texas company essentially accuses the company of taking a mile after being offered an inch.

Virginia's top lawyer says the state is a victim of a fraud perpetrated against its taxpayers.

Every work day Eric Alfredson from Chesterfield hits the road with hopes of safe travels on Virginia's busy highways and byways.  "Seventy-eight mile commute each way -- 40,000 miles a year," said Alfredson, who was filling his car with gas in Chesterfield Thursday.  “I think to myself if I hit that thing, what's going to happen?"

He was taking about the protective barrier attached to the guardrail that’s supposed to keep him, and you, safe.

If a car strikes an ET-Plus guard rail head-on, it’s supposed to allow the impact to essentially peel away the guard rail.

But the Commonwealth contends they're faulty and instead of peeling, they sometimes impale cars instead, causing serious bodily harm or even death to drivers.

"It sounds a little terrifying," said Karie Stuart, who had stopped at a gas station on Courthouse Road in Chesterfield, when I mentioned the Virginia lawsuit.

Josh Harman, a former guardrail engineer in Virginia, claims the equipment doesn't work. His research is being used in the Virginia suit against Trinity Highway Products for secretly changing the design.

The suit alleges the company narrowed the width of the steel chute from five inches to four, a change which Harman says was to cut costs.  "The move was strictly to save them money on their bottom line," Harmon said.

Trinity Highway applied the brakes to those accusations, saying in a statement:

"'Trinity did not commit fraud against the Commonwealth of Virginia.  We are surprised and deeply disappointed the Commonwealth of Virginia chose the lawsuit path. We are in the process of conducting the eight tests requested by the FWHA, which includes the two tests specifically requested by Virginia.  We have given them all the data they have requested.  We will continue to work with them.  We will defend ourselves fully against these allegations.'”

A spokesperson for V-DOT told me there are 11,000  ET-Plus guard rails lining Virginia’s highways.   He told me there's no real way to track them because they were installed by contractors who at the time believed they were installing Federal Highway Administration-approved material.