A federal judge in Texas on Tuesday levied a $663 million penalty against a company found guilty of misleading the government about highway guardrails that were alleged to malfunction and impale vehicles that struck them.

U.S. District Judge Rodney Gilstrap was not deterred in his judgment by a recent round of federal testing that showed the ET Plus guardrail end caps made by Trinity Industries performed as designed, causing guardrails to bend away from cars that hit them.

Gilstrap tripled the $175 million awarded by a federal jury last year to $525 million. Then he assessed a civil penalty of $8,250 for each of the 16,771 false certifications made by Trinity. And he awarded Joshua Harman, the competitor who sued Trinity over alleged defects, more than $16 million in legal fees and $2.3 million in expenses.

In total, the award in the whistleblower lawsuit is one of the largest of its kind.

Harman traveled the country, documenting what he saw as failures and posting photos on a Web site. His allegations were bolstered by lawsuits filed in connection with at least 14 accidents.

Trinity spokesman Jeff Eller said the company was disappointed by Gilstrap’s ruling.

“We believe the evidence clearly shows that no fraud was committed,” Eller said. “Trinity also believes that the trial court made significant errors in applying the federal law to the plaintiff’s allegations and, therefore, the judgment is erroneous and should be reversed in its entirety.”

Guardrail heads are rectangular pieces of steel affixed to the end of guardrails. When a vehicle plows into one, the head is supposed to slide along the guardrail and deflect it away from the car.

Trinity has been engaged in a bitter legal battle with competitors who contend that modifications to the original Trinity cap caused deadly malfunctions. Harman and other competitors said a Trinity design change caused it to malfunction, leading to five deaths and several injuries.

Trinity’s ET Plus head received federal and state approvals when it debuted in the 1990s. In 2005, Trinity made a small design change: The channel behind the guardrail head, along which the rail end is supposed to slide during a crash, was reduced by an inch — from five inches to four — allegedly saving the company $2 per unit.

Federal and state officials said they should have been notified of the change but were not.

Officials with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) learned of the change in 2012 from Harman, who was in litigation with Trinity and later brought the False Claims Act suit that was decided in Texas, where Trinity is based.

Harman’s suit contended that Trinity changed the width of a key piece of metal from five inches to four. That modification, he says, resulted in deadly malfunctions.

A new round of government testing this year did not support that contention.

“The measurements do not support the allegations that Trinity manufactured a second version of the ET Plus,” Greg Nadeau, deputy administrator of the FHWA, said in announcing the test results in March.

Nadeau said that states that resumed using the ET Plus guardrail caps would be eligible for federal reimbursement. If the ET Plus had been deemed defective in the testing, federal payment to states that used them would have been denied.

About 200,000 guardrail caps have been installed on U.S. roadways, according to federal authorities.

That estimate came as federal officials accepted a plan to conduct two months of testing to determine whether the rail caps pose a genuine danger.

An undetermined number of the caps are believed to be in use in Maryland and Virginia. Officials in both states said they were installed by their contractors based on specifications provide by the state and the FHWA.

Virginia said last year that it has paid for installation of about 11,000 caps made by various companies in the past eight years but could not say how many are the potentially deadly ones.