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Dow Corning Bankruptcy Filing Impedes Silicone Implant Cases

By Jay Mathews
The Washington Post
NEW YORK

Dow Corning Corp., stuck in a massive legal swamp over allegedly harmful silicone breast implants, forced cancellation of hundreds of trials and threatened a $4.2 billion settlement Monday by filing for federal bankruptcy court protection.

The Midland, Mich.-based silicone material manufacturer said the bankruptcy filing, which shields it from creditors while it gets its financial affairs in order, was the only way to avoid being overwhelmed by soaring legal costs.

Some of the 400,000 women who expect to draw money from the settlement fund or who decided to pursue separate legal claims against the company accused Dow Corning of stretching out the process to avoid bad publicity and perhaps force women who need the money urgently to settle for smaller amounts.

"A lot of women were relying on the money to have their breast implants removed and now that money will not be forthcoming," said Sybil Goldrich, a woman suing for damages after her implants failed.

Dow Corning officials denied the charges, and said their plight underlined the need for Congress's current effort to overhaul product liability law. "We had to take this action now to preserve both the fundamental strength of our business operations and our ability to fairly compensate all women with breast implant claims," said Dow Corning Chairman Richard A. Hazelton.

The Dow Corning decision leaves in doubt the future of the settlement reached last year that would have paid participating women from $140,000 to $1.4 million each, depending on the nature and severity of their symptoms.

Dow Corning officials said they hope the financial reorganization plan they file will still include the $2 billion they promised to contribute to the settlement fund. Three other companies involved in silicone implant production - Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., 3M Co. and Baxter Intl. Inc. - have promised to give money to the fund, although a rush of new claims led a federal judge to conclude that $4.2 billion will not be enough.

Although about 400,000 women agreed to accept the fund's restrictions, at least 11,000 others did not. Their individual lawsuits created an unpredictable element that Dow Corning - the smallest of the four companies - said it could not handle.