HARTFORD, Conn. (CBSNewYork/AP)Sen. Richard Blumenthal is calling on the federal government to remove and pay for replacing potentially dangerous guardrails along highways nationwide.

The Connecticut Democrat argues the Federal Highway Administration failed to investigate a change in the manufacturer’s design that could make the guardrails lethal if a vehicle strikes them in a certain way, WCBS 880 Connecticut Bureau Chief Fran Schneidau reported.

“Nearly every state has them, and the Federal Highway Administration, supposedly the watchdog protecting us, has been enabling and even encouraging installation of these defective guardrails,” Blumenthal told Schneidau.

Earlier this week, a jury found Trinity Highway Products, the company that makes the guardrails, defrauded and misled government officials about its product. The jury ruled the company should pay $175 million — a total that could be tripled under the False Claims Act.

A whistleblower charged that the Texas-based company changed the design of caps at each end of the guardrails a decade ago that made them more dangerous, then failed to properly test the units or tell government transportation officials about the change for years. The guardrails are supposed to collapse and cushion the impact when hit head-on, but critics say they often impale cars.

The money awarded by the jury would be split between the United States Treasury and the whistleblower, Josh Harman, who is also a competitor to Trinity.

Trinity issued a statement suggesting that it would appeal the decision.

The company has said that since the guardrail system was introduced in 2000, it has met all federal testing standards. The federal government has reimbursed states that buy and install the guardrails.

The Federal Highway Administration on Tuesday sent a letter to Trinity telling the company it must perform additional testing on the guardrails and to provide a plan for new testing by Oct. 31. If not, the government may suspend or revoke the eligibility of the guardrails for federal reimbursements to states, the letter said.

Massachusetts and Missouri have already removed Trinity’s ET-Plus guardrails from their lists of qualified products pending further field testing. Earlier this month, the Federal Highway Administration sent a memo to state transportation agencies seeking more information about crashes involving the guardrails.

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