A $500 million lawsuit filed in federal court Wednesday against Kimberly-Clark Corp. alleges the company falsely claimed its surgical gowns protected against Ebola and other infectious diseases. The suit says that the company knew for at least a year that its Microcool Breathable High Performance Surgical Gown had failed industry tests of impermeability to blood and microbes, but it continued to claim the product provided the highest level of protection against diseases, including Ebola. Many of the gowns tested had "catastrophic" failures, according to the suit, which called Kimberly-Clark's actions "utterly reprehensible." The lawsuit alleges fraud, false advertising, negligent misrepresentation, and unfair business practices by Kimberly-Clark, which also makes consumer products such as Kleenex and Huggies.
The company has more than half the worldwide market for surgical gowns that meet the highest level of resistance to transfers of bodily fluids, according to the lawsuit, which estimates "tens of millions" of the gowns have been sold worldwide. The suit was filed by Hrayr Shahinian, an LA surgeon who said he had used the gowns and thus was potentially exposed to harm. "We are aware of individuals [who] have contracted various diseases while wearing the gown, but we are not at liberty to disclose what those are at the present time," says the case's lead attorney. Kimberly-Clark said in a statement that it does not comment regarding ongoing litigation but that the company stands behind the safety and efficacy of its products. (Read more Ebola stories.)