Implant maker investigated under Calif. liability act

January 31, 1992|By New York Times News Service

LOS ANGELES 3/8 3/8 — LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles County district attorney opened a criminal investigation yesterday of managers at the nation's leading manufacturer of silicone breast implants, Dow-Corning Wright Corp.

Acting under a year-old California law, investigators will seek to learn if company managers knowingly concealed information about dangers of silicone gel implants, said District Attorney Ira Reiner.

If found guilty, individual managers could be jailed up to three years, and the company could be fined $1 million, Mr. Reiner said.

The investigation is the first test of the California Corporate Criminal Liability Act, the nation's only law that holds corporate managers personally responsible for concealing information about product dangers, Mr. Reiner said.

Only current company managers who were in a position to know about concealed information over the past year are liable for criminal prosecution, Mr. Reiner said.

Enacted a year ago, the law was inspired by the Ford Pinto case, in which defective cars exploded in accidents. Mr. Reiner said that plaintiffs' lawyers in the Pinto litigation had shown that managers decided it would be cheaper to pay damages than to repair a defect in the car's gas tank.

The law is designed to prevent such "calculating bottom-line mentality," Mr. Reiner said.

Robert Grupp, Dow-Corning Wright's corporate spokesman, said the company had just learned of the investigation. But in the light of recent actions taken by Dow-Corning Wright, he said, "the L.A. County effort seems unnecessary."

Mr. Reiner acknowledged that Dow-Corning Wright had provided voluminous data to the Food and Drug Administration supporting its contentions that breast implants are safe and effective.

And on Feb. 10, the company will release 80 memorandums or internal reports identified by the FDA as pertinent to product safety, Mr. Grupp said.

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