Dr. Aaron Westrick has won reinstatement of his claims under the California False Claims Act. Last Thursday, May 26, 2011, the California Court of Appeal for the Second District (in Los Angeles) issued its decision in State of California ex rel. Westrick v. Itochu International, Inc., Case No. B223053. On January 26, 2010, the Superior Court of Los Angeles County dismissed Westrick's complaint, holding that his complaint did not plead the allegations of fraud with specificity. The Court of Appeal has now reversed and reinstated Westrick's claims.
Dr. Westrick began his career as a police officer in Michigan. In 1982, he was shot by a fleeing burglar with a .357 Magnum from approximately five feet away. A Second Chance bulletproof vest, made of Kevlar, saved his life. Westrick subsequently earned a Ph.D. in sociology and criminal justice. In 1996, Second Chance hired Westrick as its director of research. On July 5, 2001, Dr. Westrick received a letter from the Japanese Toyobo Company stating that, “the strength of Zylon fiber decreases under high temperature and humidity conditions.” Dr. Westrick recognized that Zylon would degrade and that police officers would die while wearing "bullet-proof" vests made of Zylon. He asked his employer to recall its Zylon vests and have them tested. In June 2003, Officer Tony Zeppetella of Oceanside, California, was killed when his $766 Zylon vest failed to stop two bullets. That same month, a police officer in Pennsylvania was seriously wounded when a bullet pierced his Zylon vest.
My colleague, Erik Snyder, presented Dr. Westrick's argument to the Court of Appeal. It was Erik's first oral argument. Based on this result, we can expect many more advances for whistleblower rights in Erik's legal career. Congratulations to Erik and Dr. Westrick.
For more information about Dr. Westrick's claims and the problems with Zylon, see this prior blog post. Some excerpts from the Court's new decision follow in the continuation of this blog entry.Continue Reading...