Railcar company settles claims that it made unsafe design changes.
Judge Kenneth Garrett, state court judge in Independence, Missouri approved a preliminary class action settlement in which Trinity Industries would pay $56 million to resolve claims by counties that it “failed to disclose design changes to a guardrail system for roads and highways that made it unsafe and unreasonably dangerous.” Trinity owns businesses that provide railcar products and services throughout North America under the trade name TrinityRail.
The settlement would essentially resolve the first case filed in 2015 by Jackson County on behalf of other Missouri counties with 10,000 or more people, the city of St. Louis, and Missouri’s transportation authority. Trinity, based in Dallas, Texas, did not admit wrongdoing.
“When Jackson County filed this lawsuit, the goal was to recover the funds necessary to remove and replace these dangerous devices from Missouri roads,” said Patrick Stueve, an attorney for the plaintiffs. “That’s exactly what this settlement provides.”
Whistleblower Joshua Harman, on behalf of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), filed a similar claim resulting in a $663.4 million judgment in 2014. A jury found the company “failed to tell a federal agency about changes made to the guardrail system.” However, this judgement was ultimately overturned in the court of appeals, and in 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court turned away Harman’s bid to reignite it.
“We are disappointed but believe the true objective of the case has been achieved. Because of Joshua Harman’s efforts, there is more federal and state scrutiny than ever before to ensure the safety of our nation’s roads and highways,” said Nicholas Gravante, one of Harman’s attorneys, at the time. Harman is not a plaintiff in the Missouri case.
Missouri’s Department of Transportation removed the ET Plus from an approved products list following the litigation against Trinity. Soon after, 30 more states followed suit. Several whistleblower lawsuits remain in pending status, including one in Massachusetts which has reached a tentative settlement of $5 million. The Missouri deal would offer $3.5 million to reimburse Missouri counties that removed and replaced 4-inch ET Plus devices and an additional $2.5 million to cover the costs of locating the devices on their roads. Trinity has also agreed to pay $11.4 million in attorneys’ fees and expenses plus administrative costs.
The preliminary approval “does not provide a second opportunity for class members to opt out or request exclusion.” Court documents state further, “Given that this Court previously granted class certification and class members were given an opportunity to opt out or request exclusion after mailing of direct notice and none did, the Court finds that the decision not to include an opt out period is reasonable under the circumstances of this case and consistent with Missouri law. Doyle v. Fluor Corp., 400 S.W.3d 316, 324 (Mo. App. E.D. 2013) (affirming approval of class action settlement on appeal and holding: ‘to extinguish all doubt, we find no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s determination that a second opt-out period is not required under Rule 52.08 and would have unnecessarily disrupted settlement proceedings and prolonged the case to the detriment of all parties.’).”
The case is Jackson County, Missouri v. Trinity Industries Inc, Jackson County Circuit Court, Missouri, No. 1516-CV23684.