Trinity Industries reaches settlement worth $56 million in Missouri guardrail case

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  • Trinity Industries settles class action claims by Missouri counties
  • Earlier federal whistleblower verdict tossed on appeal

(Reuters) - Trinity Industries Inc has reached a class action settlement valued at about $56 million to resolve claims by Missouri counties that it failed to disclose design changes to a guardrail system for roads and highways that made it unsafe and unreasonably dangerous.

A state court judge in Missouri on Monday preliminarily approved a settlement that plaintiffs' lawyers call the first successful resolution of claims by government entities seeking to recoup the costs of replacing Trinity's ET Plus guardrails.

The proposed settlement was reached on the eve of a trial in April and resolves a lawsuit first filed in 2015 by Jackson County on behalf of other Missouri counties with 10,000 or more people, the city of St. Louis and the state's transportation authority.

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"When Jackson County filed this lawsuit, the goal was to recover the funds necessary to remove and replace these dangerous devices from Missouri roads,” Patrick Stueve, a lawyer for the plaintiffs at Stueve Siegel Hanson, said in a statement. "That’s exactly what this settlement provides."

Dallas-based Trinity did not admit wrongdoing as part of the settlement. It did not respond to a request for comment.

A similar case pursued by whistleblower Joshua Harman on behalf of the U.S. Justice Department resulted in a $663.4 million judgment after a jury in 2014 concluded the company failed to tell a federal agency about changes made to the guardrail system. But a federal appeals court later overturned that verdict.

Harman is not a plaintiff in the Missouri case whose settlement Judge Kenneth Garrett in Independence, Missouri preliminarily approved.

The state's Department of Transportation removed the ET Plus from an approved products list following the allegations against Trinity, and 30 other states followed, plaintiffs' lawyers say.

Several whistleblower lawsuits Harman filed on behalf of states have been dismissed, though some remain pending including one in Massachusetts that Trinity has said it has tentatively agreed to settle for $5 million.

The Missouri settlement provides $3.5 million to reimburse Missouri counties that removed and replaced 4-inch ET Plus devices and another $2.5 million to cover the costs of locating the devices on their roads.

Counties are entitled to a new guardrail terminal end piece valued at $2,000 plus a flat payment of $1,700 for each of the estimated 10,000-plus 4-inch ET Plus devices currently on their roads. The lawyers say that is worth $38 million.

Trinity has also agreed to pay $11.4 million in attorneys' fees and expenses plus administrative costs.

The case is Jackson County, Missouri v. Trinity Industries Inc, Jackson County Circuit Court, Missouri, No. 1516-CV23684.

For the plaintiffs: Patrick Stueve, Bradley Wilders and Alex Ricke of Stueve Siegel Hanson

For Trinity: Brian Prestes of Bartlit Beck

Read more:

U.S. top court declines to take up Trinity Industries guardrail case

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Nate Raymond reports on the federal judiciary and litigation. He can be reached at nate.raymond@thomsonreuters.com.