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IMPLANT SUIT JURORS FIND DOW AT FAULT.

Byline: Barry Meier The New York Times

In a major courtroom setback for one of the nation's largest chemical producers, a state jury in Louisiana found Monday that the Dow Chemical Co. had knowingly deceived women by hiding information about the health risks of silicone used in breast implants.

The New Orleans jury, which is hearing the first class-action lawsuit brought against a company involved in the breast implant industry, also found that Dow Chemical had failed to test silicone adequately before it was used in the human body.

Monday's decision ended the first part of a case that potentially involves the claims of 1,800 women who received breast implants. In the trial's second phase, expected to start in late September, the same jury will determine whether eight women, who are representative of the women in the class action, were injured by the devices. It also will decide what compensation, if any, they should receive.

If upheld, the decision could have significant financial implications for Dow Chemical, which is one owner of Dow Corning, which at one time was the nation's largest implant producer. Dow Corning filed for bankruptcy to protect itself from breast implant lawsuits.

The decision is also notable because in recent years implant manufacturers have been winning court claims.

Officials of Dow Chemical, which is based in Midland, Mich., said they believed that the jury's decision was unfounded and that the company's position would be vindicated in the trial's next phase.

``This decision is not the finish but the start of a much longer process,'' said John Musser, a spokesman for Dow Chemical. ``This decision is not a judgment of the medical science.''

In recent years, tens of thousands of women have claimed that they suffered a host of health problems from silicone-filled breast implants, including hardening of the breast tissue, implant rupture and disabling disorders that resemble autoimmune disorders like lupus or connective tissue disease.

There is abundant evidence that silicone implants ruptured at rates far higher than initially suggested by manufacturers. But the vast majority of recent scientific studies has found that the rate of autoimmune diseases in women with implants is about the same as for the general population.

But the leading plaintiffs lawyer in breast implant litigation, John O'Quinn of Houston, who handled the New Orleans case, said Monday's decision could broaden the legal front in claims against Dow Chemical.

``Maybe someone will finally get the message that when evidence is put out in the open under oath, the truth comes out,'' O'Quinn said.

Plaintiffs lawyers have been pursuing Dow Chemical since Dow Corning, the nation's leading producer of the breast implants, filed for bankruptcy protection in 1995 to shield itself from tens of thousands of lawsuits related to the devices. In trading Monday on the New York Stock Exchange, Dow Chemical fell $3 a share to close at $89 a share.

Lawyers for women who received breast implants have claimed that Dow Chemical, which, together with Corning Inc. owns Dow Corning, was involved in the production and safety testing of silicone used in the devices. But Dow Chemical, which produces silicone for a host of industrial uses, always has maintained that it was never involved in the testing or manufacturing of the implants.

Manufacturers, including Dow Corning, voluntarily stopped making silicone implants after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said in 1992 that the safety of the devices had not been well-established. By that time hundreds of thousands of women had had them implanted.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 19, 1997
Words:584
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