Bulletproof vest maker settles defect claims

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Case in Point

June 5, 2012

Bulletproof vest maker settles defect claims 

Eight consumer class actions arising from the vest material’s inconsistent performance alleged breaches of warranty and the duty to warn and violations of various states’ consumer protection laws, among other claims. In the Matter of SCBA Liquidation, Inc.

Second Chance Body Armor, Inc. (SCBA), manufactures bulletproof vests. In 1998, SCBA began using a material called Zylon in its vests after Zylon’s maker, Toyobo Co., promised that it had twice the strength of the polymer fibers commonly used in soft body armor and was resistant to heat, light, and moisture.

In November 2001, Toyobo told SCBA that new tests showed Zylon lost 15 percent of its strength when exposed to 40 percent humidity and temperatures over 40-degrees Celsius for longer than 100 days. A month later, however, Toyobo said the test was faulty and the product lost less than 10 percent of its strength over 10 years of use. SCBA did not inform the public of the inconsistent tests but did begin conducting its own tests. SCBA stopped using Zylon in August 2003 after concluding that its performance was inconsistent.

In June 2003, two police officers were shot in separate incidents while wearing the vests. Officer Tony Zeppetella was killed after several bullets pierced his body armor, and Officer Edward Limbacher was injured when he was shot in the abdomen.

Eight consumer class actions, as well as suits related to Zeppetella’s and Limbacher’s shootings, were filed against Toyobo and SCBA alleging breaches of warranty and the duty to warn and violations of various states’ consumer protection laws. SCBA filed for bankruptcy in October 2004. The bankruptcy court certified a class of all U.S. purchasers or users of SCBA bulletproof vests containing Zylon.

Toyobo settled with the class for $29 million in 2005.

The class made a claim for about $113.21 million in the SCBA bankruptcy. The commonwealth of Pennsylvania made its own claim for about $18.04 million. The bankruptcy trustee agreed to pay the class claim, which amounts to $750 per vest, with deductions for class members who received part of the Toyobo settlement. Notice has been sent to potential class members.

The trustee agreed to pay Pennsylvania about $22.77 million, including about $2.16 million in restitution to state residents who bought the vests and about $20.61 million in civil penalties. The bankruptcy court has granted final approval to that portion.

Citation: In the Matter of SCBA Liquidation, Inc., No. 04-12515-jdg (Bankr. W.D. Mich. May 15, 2012).

Plaintiff counsel: AAJ member Allan Kanner and Cindy St. Amant, both of New Orleans; and Karin Avery and Geoff Silverman, both of West Bloomfield, Mich.

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