Imagine someone selling a product that is meant to protect people, but it doesn’t. Now imagine that the seller knew all along that the product they were selling didn’t offer the promised protection.
Aaron Westrick believed that the company he worked for was selling defective bulletproof vests to law enforcement, so he blew the whistle and filed a qui tam suit under the False Claims Act (FCA). The Department of Justice (DOJ) decided to intervene, taking over the suit in 2005. Two settlements have recently been announced by the DOJ: one for $66 million on March 15, 2018, and the other on July 16, 2018, for $1.2 million in assets previously frozen by the United States and a fine of $125,000.
The case was brought against Toyobo Co. Ltd. of Japan and Toyobo U.S.A. Inc., its American subsidiary, claiming that Toyobo sold a defective fiber named Zylon that was used in bulletproof vests. These vests were sold to the U.S. government for distribution to law enforcement agencies at all levels: federal, state, local, and tribal (Native American).
The suit alleged that, from 2001 to 2005, Toyobo knew that their Zylon product was defective because it degraded rapidly in hot, humid conditions, rendering the bulletproof vests that contained the fiber ineffective for stopping bullets. The DOJ also alleged that Toyobo, knowing that any Zylon-containing vests would not offer protection, took the following actions:
- Continued to actively market the fiber for use in bulletproof vests
- Published data about Zylon’s degradation that understated the problem, misleading makers of vests
- Engaged in a publicity campaign to influence vest makers so they would keep selling vests with Zylon in them after one maker, Second Chance Body Armor Inc., recalled some of its Zylon-containing vests late in 2003.
In August, 2005, a study of vests containing Zylon, done by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), determined that more than half of the used vests they tested were not able to stop bullets despite certification that they could. All Zylon-containing vests were then decertified by the NIJ.
Toyobo is the only maker of Zylon.
Settlement Information and Related Details
The March $66 million settlement with Toyobo, which contains no admission of liability by the company, is part of a bigger investigation into the body armor industry and its use of Zylon. Prior to the Toyobo case, the DOJ’s Civil Division recovered an additional $66-plus million from 16 entities that sold, distributed, or manufactured Zylon-containing vests.
A related case against the founder and former CEO of Second Chance Body Armor, Richard Davis, was settled on July 16, 2018. The government alleged that the company’s body armor vests were defective due to the loss of their ballistic capability when exposed to heat and humidity and that Davis had been aware of the problem since 2001 but continued to market the vests. Davis and other Second Chance owners were forced to file for bankruptcy in 2004, the year after a Pennsylvania police officer was shot through his Second Chance Zylon vest.
The whistleblower, Westrick, was a law enforcement officer employed by Second Chance. He will receive approximately $5.78 million of the Toyobo settlement and a portion of the recovery in the Davis case when the assets are unfrozen.
Statements from those associated with the Toyobo case were strong. The Inspector General of the General Services Administration, Carol Fortine Ochoa, stated, “This settlement sends a strong message to suppliers of products to the federal government that they must be truthful in their claims, particularly with regard to health and safety.” U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also commented, noting that “[s]elling material for these vests that one knows to be defective is dishonest, and risks the lives of the men and women who serve to protect us.”
Blowing the Whistle? We Can Help You with Your Next Step.
If you think you have the facts needed to bring a whistleblower case, the experienced whistleblower attorneys at the Louthian Law Firm can review your case and help you file the appropriate disclosure statement. Under some circumstances, the government will intervene, or join in your lawsuit.
Your chances of succeeding are greater if your whistleblower claim is substantive, clear, and to the point. Because of this, meeting with a qualified whistleblower attorney can increase your chances of winning. The Louthian Law Firm can help you form your claim so that the government will be more inclined to intervene in your case. Sometimes, government intervention can increase the chances of recovering reward money. Even if the government decides not to intervene, it could still be a good idea to pursue your case. If you decide to do so, our strong support system can assist you through every step of the process.
For a free, confidential evaluation of your case, call the Louthian Law Firm today or, if you prefer, use our online contact form.