Monday, September 26, 2005

 

Second Chance Accused Of Cover-up

While at the gym, I caught a segment on NBC Nightly News about an alledged cover-up at northern Michigan's Second Chance, concerning their recall of defective Zylon-based ballistic armor (AKA "bulletproof vests").

There's little question that the recalled vests have problems, supposedly due to either to excessive residual acid levels in the Zylon fiber used in their construction (Second Chance's claim), or known problems with the fiber when used in hot sweaty environments (the fiber manufacturer's claim). The most recent news surrounds the question of a possible cover-up by Second Chance, and whether that delay (if it occurred) led to the loss of life. At least two officers have died while wearing the suspect vests (one of which who was hit 13 times).

If indeed there was a delayed response, it certainly sucks for those involved. Today's legal atmosphere unfortunately does not encourage doing "the right thing", and the company had to file for bankruptcy protection anyways. Responding earlier would have probably just accelerated the process, and whether it would have saved lives is questionable since many officers were forced to continue wearing the vests anyways. Companies operating under bankruptcy protection are not the best place to look for corrective actions to a problem.

I'm still not willing to vilify the company, though, considering its long history of saving lifes (nearly 1000 to date), and owner Richard Davis' trademark demonstration of confidence in his product. The man has been shot perhaps hundreds of times while wearing his product, which to me does not sound like the mark of someone who's trying to run a scam. And the move from Kevlar to Zylon was to improve comfort, which meant that more officers would wear the vests and thus benefit from its protection. It's also interesting to note that Second Chance was the first vest manufacturer to recall its Zylon-based product.

How the rest of this story turns out is for the courts to decide based on what the fiber manufacturer knew, when it knew it, and when that information was communicated to Second Chance, but in all likelihood the end result will be to deprive wearers of the latest-and-greatest protection. It also shows the difficulty a small company faces when tackling a complex product, and the larger problems that arise when said company has little or no leverage with a supplier that is much larger in financial size.

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