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Mediation Ordered in Trinity Guardrail Case

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By William Peacock, Esq. on October 29, 2014 6:10 PM

Last week, we covered the enormous verdict in the Trinity guardrail case: $175 million which, when tripled under federal law, could mean a verdict of $525 million. While Trinity has indicated it plans to appeal the jury verdict, that may not be necessary.

Why? The judge in the case has just referred the parties to mediation with a Duke Law professor, Francis McGovern, who is one of the foremost experts in alternative dispute resolution. On top of that, Trinity faces uneasy investors and declining stock prices, both of which would be alleviated by a resolution of the case.

Catch-Up on End-Caps

Here's the all-too-short version of the case to date: Trinity allegedly tweaked the design of its highway guardrails and rail end caps, and now, instead of absorbing the impact, the rails become spears that cut through a car in the event of a head-on collision.

An employee of a rival company noticed the change during a patent dispute and filed a whistleblower action, resulting in the big, massive, huge verdict.

Settlement Motivation

There are two ways this case can go from here: a long, protracted appeal battle or a quick settlement after the finding of liability.

The whistleblower plaintiff is in favor of exactly that -- settlement. One of his attorneys, Nicholas Gravante, told The Associated Press that Trinity could "cut its losses" if it would settle the case and immediately recall the guardrail end caps.

Meantime, Eric Crawford, a financial analyst with UBS, told The New York Times that Trinity could probably withstand such a large verdict, but that investors did not want to see a protracted legal battle.

Prof. McGovern Is Key

We like nicknames around here, so we'll call Francis McGovern the "Titan of Dispute Resolution."

McGovern's Duke bio outlines his professional achievements, from being one of the pioneers of the ADR movement in the 1970s to his present status as one of the most trusted court-appointed special masters. He's been involved in the DDT toxic exposure litigation in Alabama, the Dalkon-Shield litigation, and silicone gel breast implant claims. He's handled claims internationally too, including reparations in Iraq and mass tort claims in Europe.

In short, this guy is the man when it comes to ADR.

If both parties are as motivated to settle the case as it seems, and McGovern works his magic, the Trinity guardrail case could be wrapped up soon.

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