LOS ANGELES (CN) – Kleenex maker Kimberly-Clark said Monday it would challenge a $454 million jury verdict that found it liable for claiming its surgical gowns protected against blood-borne diseases including Ebola and HIV.
On Friday, a federal jury ruled for a class of patients, health care professionals and physicians who sued Kimberly-Clark in 2014, the same year that workers were fighting an Ebola epidemic in West Africa. The class action claimed that the Texas-based company and Halyard Health of Alpharetta, Georgia, had fraudulently represented the medical gowns would not allow fluid to pass through but had known since 2012 that testing showed the guarantee did not hold up.
The class said Kimberly-Clark failed to alert the public or recall the defective gowns, some of which had ended up with medical personnel in West Africa during the most severe spread of the Ebola virus in history.
Kimberly-Clark said it would challenge the verdict through post-judgement motions and called the award “baseless” and excessive.
“Nearly 70 million MicroCool gowns have been sold without a single complaint of an injury,” the company said in a statement, adding that it would appeal the verdict to the Ninth Circuit if the motions are denied.
The company’s former business Halyard Health sold the gowns. Kimberly-Clark spun off the company in 2014. Halyard will cover the entirety of the award under an indemnification agreement, Kimberly-Clark said.
“Kimberly-Clark believes the final outcome of this litigation will not result in any material financial exposure for the company,” it said.
After the verdict, class attorney Michael Avenatti released a statement stating that the jury had unanimously found the companies had deceived California health care workers and had acted fraudulently.
“This fraud verdict should send a clear message to corporations throughout the United States that concealment and cover-up are not part of doing business,” Avenatti of the firm Eagan Avenatti said. “The trial was a search for the truth and the jury found it.”
Kimberly-Clark had told the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that during testing the MicroCool surgical gowns resisted exposure to synthetic blood and blood-borne pathogens.
The gowns experienced “catastrophic failures” placing health care workers and patients and risk, even though Kimberly-Clark claimed they offered the highest level of protection under industry liquid-barrier standards, the class said.
The eight members of the jury heard during the two-week trial that Kimberly-Clark and Halyard did not inform the FDA, health care workers or the public when it learned that the gowns had failed several industry tests.
“Internal emails and documents from the companies showed employees describing the manufacturing process as ‘crap’ and admitting that they were knowingly using defective and substandard equipment to make the gowns in Honduras,” Avenatti’s firm said.
“Instead of recalling the gowns and disclosing the truth, the companies concealed what they knew, fired employees who knew too much and continued promoting, marketing and selling the gowns by stating they were impermeable, even going so far as to recommend that the gowns be used when treating patients with serious infectious diseases, including Ebola and HIV,” the firm added.
U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee presided over the jury trial at the First Street Courthouse in downtown LA.