Judge won't dismiss bulletproof vest suit

Feb. 23, 2010 at 2:13 PM
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 23 (UPI) -- A U.S. judge in Washington Tuesday refused to dismiss a whistle-blower suit against the Japanese manufacturer of bulletproof vest material.

The suit claims manufacturer Toyobo Ltd. and U.S. company Second Chance Body Armor Inc. conspired to sell defective body armor to law enforcement.

Supplied by Toyobo with a bulletproof material called "Zylon," "Second Chance sold over 66,000 vests between 1998 and 2004 to law enforcement agencies throughout the United States, including over 40,000 to the United States government. Each vest carried a five-year warranty," U.S. District Court Judge Richard Roberts wrote in his order denying dismissal.

"Beginning in July 1998, Toyobo and Second Chance discovered and exchanged communications about the degradation of Zylon fibers resulting from the exposure to light, heat and humidity," Roberts said. "However, Toyobo continued to supply Zylon to Second Chance, which, in turn, sold the vests containing Zylon without warning (to) purchasers and users about the potential strength loss or issuing a recall of existing vests."

The U.S. government alleges in the suit that the defendants knew the body armor "was defective and that Zylon provided less protection than" the companies had represented and was required by contract specifications.

Toyobo asked for dismissal, saying the government had failed to state a legal claim, but Roberts had sufficiently alleged violations under the False Claims Act and common law.

The suit was filed by whistle-blower Aaron Westrick under the FCA in 2004 and was joined by the U.S. Justice Department in 2005. Westrick was a former research director for Second Chance. That company has since been sold to a Florida company.

If the suit is successful, Westrick would be given a portion of damages.

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