A Texas judge recently ordered a Dallas-based guardrail manufacturer linked to at least nine deaths to pay a $663 million penalty, including $199 million to the whistleblower who alerted the federal government about the unsafe guardrails, a penalty that will hopefully send a strong message that such practices will not be tolerated, according to Houston whistleblower attorney J. Mark Brewer of Brewer & Pritchard, P.C.
"Corporations need to understand there are consequences for their actions," Brewer said. "If a company knowingly manufactures a dangerous product or defrauds taxpayers, that company will be held accountable for its actions. And the person who brings such wrongdoing to light should be rewarded for taking such courageous actions."
On June 9, a Texas judge ordered Trinity Industries Inc. of Dallas to pay the $663 million penalty to the government for hiding potentially deadly changes from the Federal Highway Administration made to altered ET-Plus guardrails, according to an article published by Bloomberg Business about the court ruling. (Bloomberg Business, "Road to Record $199 Million Award Began With Hunch on Guardrails," June 11, 2015)
Under the terms of the ruling, whistleblower Joshua Harman, 46, of Virginia would receive $199 million as a reward for alerting the government to such wrongdoing. If the award stands, it would be one of the largest awards to a taxpayer under the U.S. False Claims Act as well as the largest award to an individual whistleblower, according to the Bloomberg Business article.
Harman owns Spig Industry LLC, a Virginia-based guardrail manufacturer forced to file for bankruptcy in March, according to The Wall Street Journal. (The Wall Street Journal, "Guardrail Whistleblower Puts Own Company Into Bankruptcy," March 17, 2015)
In 2011, Harman noticed that changes had been made to the dimensions of Trinity's guardrails, which Harman said he believed contributed injuries caused by cars colliding into Trinity's altered guardrails, Harman told Bloomberg News.
In 2012, Harman sued Trinity on behalf of the government under the qui tam statute, the False Claims Act, which allows individuals to file a lawsuit against a company for allegedly defrauding the government, according The Wall Street Journal article. Harman filed his lawsuit in U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Texas (Marshall), according to Bloomberg Business.
Mounting a successfully whistleblower case in Texas or elsewhere can be complicated, according to attorney Brewer.
"What makes these cases very hard is the difficulty whistleblowers often have simply trying to obtain the records they need to build a strong legal case," Brewer said. "Companies which already are breaking the law usually have little qualms about withholding evidence and concealing information that could potentially expose such wrongdoing."
"Our law firm has brought a number of whistleblower cases in Texas and throughout the country," Brewer said. "We understand the nuances of this area of the law and the challenges of being a successful whistleblower - something which invariably involves a long-term commitment on the part of the whistleblower. We have helped many people file a lawsuit for being wrongfully terminated for exposing wrongdoing. We also understand how much time and work a man like Harman must personally invest to achieve this outcome. Whistleblower cases are rarely easy. But they serve a valuable purpose and protect the public from potential harm."