In a shift from its combative stance of a few months ago, former silicone breast implant maker Dow Corning Corp. increased its settlement offer Monday to women claiming injury from its products.
In a court filing for the company’s $3.7 billion plan to emerge from bankruptcy court protection, Dow Corning offered to set aside $2.4 billion to resolve claims from 200,000 women worldwide. The rest of the money would go to claims of commercial creditors.
Lawyers representing hundreds of women suing Dow Corning said the latest offer still isn’t enough and reflects some recent court defeats for breast implant manufacturers.
Dow Corning, a Midland, Mich.-based company in which Dow Chemical Co. and Corning Inc. own equal stakes, sought bankruptcy protection in May 1995 after a $4.25 billion settlement proposal from all implant makers failed to attract enough claimants to satisfy the company. Dow Corning’s share of that proposal would have been $2 billion.
Women suing the industry have claimed a long list of complications from the devices, including complications of surgery, implant ruptures and long-term diseases of the immune system such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, which cause pain, fatigue and other symptoms. The company has acknowledged that the complications from flawed devices can occur, but has fought the notion that silicone causes any systemic diseases.
A series of studies have led to a scientific consensus that no strong link between silicone and such diseases exists, though none of the studies has ruled out a weak link that could affect thousands of women out of the estimated million who have received implants.
Dow Corning used those studies in an earlier reorganization plan it submitted to the bankruptcy court. In that plan, the company offered $600 million to address local complications, and said it would put up $1.4 billion to pay women with systemic disease claims, but would pay only if a specially held science trial proved the claims.
The bankruptcy court rejected that plan - along with a competing proposal put together by women with breast implants and commercial creditors of the company. Those plaintiffs have appealed the decision, and an appeals hearing on whether Dow Corning will be allowed to offer the sole plan for emerging from bankruptcy is scheduled for this fall.
Dow Corning President Gary Anderson said Monday that “we believe in the science that the implants do not cause disease.” He added, however, that “neither side is likely to be swayed by further debate,” so the company is broadening its settlement offer to include the systemic disease claims.
The new $2.4 billion plan would create two funds: one for women who choose to settle and another to pay Dow Corning’s costs of fighting lawsuits. Distribution of the money would depend on how many people accept the settlement; the more women who opt to settle, the more that would be available to them and the less that would go to the litigation fund. Those choosing to sue still would have to pass the test of a science trial, under the proposal.
Women choosing to settle would have four options: a quick payout of as much as $1,000, requiring little documentation; a medical procedure option to pay for implant removal; a rupture option of at least $5,000; and higher payments for women claiming medical injury from implants, with a maximum of $200,000. Those women would be required to present extensive documentation.
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