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Dow Corning Says Judge's Ruling Could Complicate Breast Implant Settlement
By Jim Suhr   Associated Press
DETROIT — Dow Corning Corp. and lawyers for women who sued the company over silicone breast implants want a judge to throw out a ruling they say could upset a complicated $3.2 billion settlement plan.

Jake Schoellkopf/AP
Nancy Duke, who alleged silicone breast implants made her ill, was awarded $30,000 in compensatory damages in May 1997, after a jury concluded the implants were defective and negligently designed.

The appeal filed Thursday asks for the dismissal of U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Arthur Spector's Dec. 21 decision, which allows women who voted against the plan to sue Dow Corning's corporate parents.

The settlement had barred further lawsuits against Dow Chemical and Corning Corp. over silicone implants. That clause is a key to the settlement, which itself is part of a $4.5 billion bankruptcy reorganization plan for Dow Corning.

Dow Corning, which no longer makes silicone breast implants, declared bankruptcy in 1995 after thousands of women sued over implants. Women have blamed leaking gel from the implants for lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, body aches, fatigue, memory loss and hardening of the breasts.

Under the proposed settlement, women who blame illnesses on Dow Corning silicone breast implants could get between $12,000 and $300,000 each. Women could also receive up to $25,000 for ruptured or leaking implants, and up to $5,000 for implant removal.

Dow Corning and the Tort Claimants Committee — representing thousands of women with silicone implants the company once made — called Spector's ruling confusing and a potential catalyst for more litigation.

The company and the claimants committee has called the "third-party release" clause "fundamental" to the settlement plan overwhelmingly approved after years of contentious negotiations.

Spector's opinion also said women who voted to approve the settlement would be barred from suing the companies. It's unclear how many women his opinion might affect; 112,774 women voted on the plan last year, with 94 percent approving.

Spector said there was no reason to assume allowing claims from women who voted against the deal would create an undue burden on the companies. He said many such claims already have been filed.

The no-lawsuit release in the settlement had been fought by lawyers for a group of women in Nevada, where the state's supreme court has upheld damages against Dow Chemical over silicone breast implants, opening the door for similar lawsuits.

Geoffrey White, a lawyer representing the Nevada women, said he will try to have the appeal dismissed.

"He gave them everything they wanted — hook, line and sinker, except for 1 percent," White said of Spector's ruling. "Nearly every concession that Dow Corning asked for they got, including Dow Chemical's release from liability for 94 percent of the whole world."

To bar further lawsuits "would be patently unfair, absurd and unjust," White said.

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