Members of law enforcement and the United States armed forces rely on bulletproof vests to preserve their lives. The Department of Justice recently announced that a fiber manufacturing company has agreed to settle a whistleblower lawsuit that alleged the company was aware that the fiber known as “Zylon” was not suited for use in bulletproof vests, yet the manufacturer continued to market and sell the fiber for use in protective vests.
The U.S. Government Unknowingly Purchased Defective Vests
The U.S. government purchased many bulletproof vests containing Zylon. An investigation revealed that the fiber is highly susceptible to degradation – even in normal heat and humidity. In 2003, one company, Second Chance Body Armor recalled some of its vests that contained the defective product. The fiber manufacturer, Toyobo Co. Ltd. of Japan and its American subsidiary launched a marketing campaign to encourage other vest manufacturers to continue to use Zylon. The marketing program is believed to have relied on misleading data to minimize the potential danger and understate the risk of degradation of the fiber.
After further investigation, the National Institute of Justice determined that more than half of all used bulletproof vests produced using Zylon were not capable of stopping bullets. The U.S. government eventually decertified Zylon vests. The government believes that the misleading advertising campaign delayed a proper investigation to get the defective vests out of the marketplace.
Worker Files Claim On Behalf Of The Government
A former police officer who worked for Second Chance Body Armor filed a qui tam lawsuit against his employer seeking to help the government recover taxpayer money that was used to purchase defective – and potentially dangerous – bulletproof vests. The government intervened and filed additional claims against other defendants, including the Zylon fiber manufacturer.
Whistleblower To Receive More Than $5M
The Japanese fiber manufacturing company and its subsidiary has agreed to settle the lawsuit for $66 million. The individual whistleblower is expected to receive $5,775,000 for his involvement in bringing forth the qui tam lawsuit. He is currently a professor of criminal justice at Lake Superior University. Claims against Honeywell International, Inc. and the former chief executive officer of Second Chance remain pending.
The story highlights how defense industry manufacturers may rely on other manufacturers for a component used in a product that renders the product defective. The False Claims Act was originally created during the Civil War to provide the government with access to information to keep defective products off the battlefield.