PITTSBURGH, July 27, 2004 See all today’s legal news & law announcements on LAWFUEL
– Pennsylvania Attorney General Jerry
Pappert today filed a civil lawsuit in Commonwealth Court that accuses a
Michigan-based bulletproof vest maker of failing to disclose potentially life
threatening flaws in its products, which were sold to thousands of
Pennsylvania law enforcement officers.
The suit identifies the defendant as Second Chance Body Armor Inc., 7915
Cameron Street, Central Lake, Michigan. The legal action accuses the company
of violating Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection
Law. Second Chance is the largest U.S. maker of bullet resistant personal
body armor. Pappert’s Bureau of Consumer Protection heads the Zylon Body
Armor Multi-State National Working Group created to address various issues
related to Zylon-based body armor.
“It’s our position that Second Chance made a conscious decision to hold-
off warning our law enforcement officials that degradation problems with Zylon
in bulletproof vests could seriously compromise their effectiveness,” Pappert
said during a news conference at the FOP Lodge #91 in West Homestead,
Allegheny County. “Failure to immediately disclose these potential dangers to
those using the products in the field is unconscionable.”
As part of an informal survey conducted by Pappert’s Office, investigators
determined that Second Chance sold more than 7,200 vests to 200 individual
Pennsylvania law enforcement agencies including the Pennsylvania State Police.
The total cost of the protective equipment was nearly $5 million, most of
which was taxpayer-funded. Many police departments or agencies have since
returned the equipment to Second Chance, received credit toward other Second
Chance bullet resistant products or accepted the company’s protective panels
to be inserted into their original vests.
According to investigators, Second Chance developed a line of lightweight
bullet resistant vests using Zylon fibers produced by Toyobo Company, LTD of
Japan. The Zylon-based ULTIMA, ULTIMAX and TRI-FLEX body armor products were
designed, manufactured, inspected, tested, distributed, warranted, advertised,
promoted and sold by Second Chance. The vests typically ranged in price from
$600 to $1,100 and came with a five-year warranty.
Second Chance advertised that its body armor is “the thinnest, lightest,
most flexible and most wearable ballistic protection available.” The
defendant claimed that its stitching design yields “superior” multi-hit, angle
hit and blunt trauma performance. Other representations included claims that
the vests provide high value and “flawless field performance.” In other
promotional material, the company claimed that it had “unimpeachable market
conduct and integrity – truthful, ethical product representation.”
According to the lawsuit, Second Chance was aware of various safety issues
surrounding Zylon-based body armor after it began selling the vests. On
December 18, 1998 Toyobo informed Second Change in writing that the “strength”
of Zylon decreases with exposure to fluorescent light. The letter stated that
tests conducted by Toyobo found that the fabric lost 20% of its strength over
a period of 200 hours of light exposure. The same letter according to the
lawsuit, advises Second Chance to keep the fabrics in a box in the factory and
not on a table exposed to light for extended periods of time.
In August 2001, Toyobo informed Second Chance that the vests experienced a
bigger strength loss than originally expected during various heat and humidity
tests. The tests were conducted in heat and humidity conditions likely to be
experienced while wearing the vests.
“In this particular correspondence, Toyobo invites the defendant to
`please share this information with your customers,'” Pappert said. “The
climate test results were not shared with police nor were law enforcement
officials warned that exposure to light or excessive heat and humidity could
also weaken the vests.”
In documents obtained during the investigation, a December 2001 memo was
sent to the Second Chance President from the company’s research director
urging him to “immediately notify our customers of the degradation problems we
are experiencing,” and to “cancel orders if requested.” The same memo states:
“Lives and our credibility are at stake” and “we will only prevail if we do
the right things and not hesitate.”
Pappert said, “Despite the disclosures from Toyobo and the company’s own
research expert, the defendant again chose not to inform those wearing these
products, that they may no longer be safe. The defendant admitted that its
products `wear out sooner than expected’ creating `a potential officer safety
issue’ only after two officers wearing the vests were shot. The shootings
killed a California police officer and wounded a Pennsylvania police officer.”
In June 2003, Forest Hills Police Officer Edward Limbacher was wounded
when a .40-caliber bullet pierced the Second Chance vest he was wearing. The
shooting occurred while Limbacher was participating in an Attorney General
Drug Task Force operation. Limbacher’s vest carried a five-year warranty and
failed six months after it was manufactured. Last September, Second Chance
reportedly discontinued production of the ULTIMA and ULTIMAX line of vests.
“These products were marketed and sold as safe and carried a five-year
warranty,” Pappert said. “We contend that Second Chance knew the products
would wear out sooner than expected and not only failed to notify existing
customers of the danger, but continued to sell the alleged faulty products to
new customers making the same `superior’ quality claims.”
The Commonwealth also accuses the defendant of failing to comply with the
terms of its guarantees and warranties. In addition, the company allegedly
created confusion and misunderstanding by implementing an unacceptable
upgrade/replacement program which failed to make purchasers whole.
Second Chance is also accused of offering some departments or agencies
free replacement vests while charging or offering discounts to others for
The lawsuit asks the court to permanently bar the defendant from operating
in violation of the Consumer Protection Law and require Second Chance to:
— Pay full restitution to law enforcement agencies that purchased the
Second Chance ULTIMA, ULTIMAX OR TRI-FLEX vests.
— Pay civil penalties of $1,000 per violation or $3,000 for each
violation involving a victim age 65 or older.
— Forfeit its right to engage in business within the Commonwealth until
restitution and fines have been paid.
— Pay the Commonwealth’s investigation costs.
Pappert thanked the various police departments and law enforcement
agencies for assisting in the investigation. The case is being handled by
Senior Deputy Attorney General Thomas J. Blessington of his Bureau of Consumer
Protection in Philadelphia.