SAN JOSE, Calif. Citing a "scheme to defraud its customers by knowingly selling defective and potentially dangerous medical devices," a former employee of Hewlett-Packard Co. filed suit on Thursday (Feb. 24) against HP and its spin-off entity, Agilent Technologies Inc.
Filed in the California Superior Court in San Francisco, the suit claims that HP and Agilent were in violation of the California False Claims Act. It seeks treble damages estimated in the "tens of millions of dollars."
The "whistleblower" bringing the qui tam action is Robert Hindin, who worked as an HP production manager and manufacturing engineer for eight years before being wrongfully terminated in 1997, according to the suit.
The suit claims that Hindin first uncovered HP's improper practices and repeated life-threatening failures of HP products in 1996 and attempted to persuade HP management to respond to the problems, even going so far as to write to HP's president.
Being met with "nothing but hostility and threats," Hindin reported HP's conduct to the Food and Drug Administration, after which he was fired.
The medical devices cited in the suit include anesthesia gas monitors, which are utilized in surgery to deliver anesthetic agents and to monitor anesthesia and respiratory gases; pulse oximeters, which are used in operating rooms, intensive care units, and patients' bedsides to measure and monitor an individual's arterial oxygen saturation level; and ultrasound imaging transducers used to produce images of structures, organs and blood flow inside the body.
According to the lawsuit, HP had falsely certified to the government that it had complied with FDA requirements, including reporting each product failure, investigating these failures, and addressing the problems.
Hindin initially filed a federal lawsuit in 1997 on behalf of himself and the U.S. government under the Federal False Claims Act, charging HP fraudulently induced government and private purchasers to buy its defective products through both misstatements and material omissions.
Hindin's fraud charges were validated by a settlement in July 2002, in which HP/Agilent agreed to pay $7 million to the federal government.
During the government investigation, Hindin filed a parallel lawsuit in California that was recently served on defendants and announced on Thursday.
In a separate matter, a woman from Georgia has filed a lawsuit against HP, claiming ink cartridges for their printers include an integrated circuit that is secretly programmed to expire on a certain date, in some cases making cartridges full of ink unusable before they are installed in a printer, according to a Reuters report (see Feb. 23 story).