DOJ sues Honeywell over faulty bulletproof vests

June 5, 2008 6:07:39 PM PDT
The government is suing diversified manufacturer Honeywell International Inc. for selling material used in bulletproof vests that it alleges the company knew was defective. According to the Justice Department lawsuit filed Thursday, Honeywell had scientific data that showed the ballistic material, known as Zylon Shield, "degraded quickly over time, especially in hot and humid conditions," leaving the vests unfit for use by law enforcement agencies and military personnel.

The department also alleges that Honeywell failed to notify the government or the vest manufacturer, Armor Holdings Inc., of the defect.

A Honeywell spokesman said the company did not make the vests sold to the government and denied claims that it was the manufacturer of the Zylon fiber that led to the initial Justice Department probe.

But according to the government's complaint, the U.S. paid $1.3 million for more than 1,700 vests sold by Armor Holdings that contained Honeywell's Zylon Shield between 2000 and 2005. The government also paid roughly $20 million more for over 11,000 bulletproof vests made with the Zylon Shield.

The (Zylon) fabric used in Honeywell's Zylon Shield was supplied by Japan's Toyobo Co. Ltd. and its U.S. subsidiary Toyobo America Inc. Honeywell patented its Zylon Shield and later sold it to Armor Holdings and its subsidiariesaccording to the complaint.

The Justice Department also alleges that Honeywell "discouraged" Armor Holdings from taking any steps to notify buyers about problems with the fiber.

"We believe there is no factual or legal basis for the Justice Department's case ... and we intend to vigorously defend against these claims," said Honeywell spokesman Peter Dalpe. The company is not aware of any cases where a bulletproof vest containing the protective fiber failed in the field, he added.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District of Court for the District of Columbia under the False Claims Act, is part of an ongoing investigation of several vendors who played a role in making the defective bulletproof vests. Several agencies are working together on the probe including the FBI and the Army Criminal Investigative Division.

"The United States will not tolerate a company withholding key scientific information that places our first-responders at risk unnecessarily," Gregory G. Katsas, acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division, said in a release.

Aerospace supplier Hexcel Corp. in October agreed to pay $15 million to resolve allegations over its role in making defective vests used by law enforcement agencies. At that time, the U.S. alleged that the Stamford, Conn.-based company knew that the Zylon fiber it used had been defective.

That Zylon had also been supplied by Toyobo and the vests were sold by Second Chance Body Armor, DHB Inc. and its subsidiaries, Armor Holdings and its subsidiaries, and Gator Hawk Armor.

Shares of Morristown, N.J.-based Honeywell fell 3 cents to $56.70.