Dow Chemical held liable in breast-implant case

February 16, 1995|By Houston Chronicle

HOUSTON -- A jury found Dow Chemical Co. partially liable yesterday in a breast-implant injury case, the first time the industry giant has been held responsible in any legal action over the silicone devices.

"Now they better take care of all these other women, or they are going to lose again and again and again," plaintiff attorney John O'Quinn said of the company.

The $5.23 million verdict, however, fell far short of the $29 million sought by attorneys for two women who said their breast implants impaired their health and professions. Dow Chemical and Dow Corning were cleared of all claims made by one woman and absolved of most of the allegations made by the other.

The jurors held Dow Corning 80 percent responsible and Dow Chemical 20 percent responsible for damages to nursing supervisor Gladys Laas of Bellville, Texas. They said neither company was responsible for the lupus disease and related impairments suffered by cardiologist Jennifer H. Ladner of El Paso, Texas, who was awarded no damages.

Dow Chemical also claimed victory in the case. "The plaintiffs' attorneys said they would establish Dow Chemical's part in a massive conspiracy, demonstrate gross negligence and prove all sorts of other horrible acts," said Dow Chemical attorney Richard Josephson. "In the end, they failed. The jury rejected all of those theories."

No obvious answer emerged from the billion-dollar question looming over the trial -- whether a verdict would force Dow Chemical into making huge legal payouts in future cases. A $4.25 billion international settlement package by implant makers has been drafted for more than 200,000 claimants. Dow Chemical is not a participant in the settlement.

Plaintiffs' attorneys say the verdict proves culpability by the company.

Dow Chemical is half-owner of implant manufacturer Dow Corning, its corporate offspring.

The jury's verdict, delivered in the courtroom of State District Judge Michael Schneider, climaxed about 10 weeks of often complex scientific and medical testimony that prompted 9 1/2 days of jury deliberations.

The result was a verdict that awarded $4.23 million in actual damages to Mrs. Laas and $1 million to her husband, retiree Robert Laas, but decided that neither Dow Chemical or Dow Corning engaged in a conspiracy or fraud, or acts of negligence.

Mr. O'Quinn had sought $11 million for Mrs. Laas, 58, who said she suffered from auto-immune conditions and other physical impairments since the implants she received in 1977 began leaking.

Judge Schneider agreed to reconsider arguments by Dow Chemical that the evidence does not support the jury's findings.

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