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A Breast Implant Maker Loses A Jury Verdict, For A Change

Fri., Oct. 18, 1996

Bucking a recent national trend, a Massachusetts jury has awarded $1.5 million to a woman who claimed silicone breast implants made her sick.

After a 4-1/2-week trial and five days of deliberation, the jury ordered Baxter International Inc., a suburban Chicago-based health products maker, to pay the damages to Florence Vassallo, 67, and her husband.

There have been at least 11 jury verdicts in favor of breast implant makers and just one major decision for recipients in the past year, as recent scientific studies have failed to link the implants with serious diseases.

Vassallo had the implants inserted in February 1977. They were made by American Heyer-Schulte Corp., a now-defunct California subsidiary of a company later bought by Baxter.

Her lawyer, Frederic Ellis said Vassallo contracted an immune system disease from the ruptured implants after they leaked silicone gel into her chest walls and elsewhere. The disease caused her extreme fatigue, muscle aches and hair loss, among other symptoms, he said.

The implants were removed in 1993, but the symptoms persisted, Ellis said.

“She’s getting worse, her prognosis is not good,” he said. “She doesn’t have much of a life. But she is pleased that the company was made to pay.”

During the trial, Vassallo’s lawyers produced evidence showing that the company ignored safety tests performed on animals in 1976 indicating the implants were unsafe.

Experts also testified at the trial about possible links between silicon implants and disease, Ellis said.

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