Oregon judge rejects link of breast implants, disease Ruling in lawsuits negates scores of claims

December 19, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

A federal judge who is overseeing all breast implant cases in Oregon has ruled that lawyers cannot introduce evidence saying that implants cause disease, because such evidence is not scientifically valid.

He also said that Oregon women with implants cannot sue manufacturers saying they fear they will become ill.

The judge dismissed 70 claims, and his ruling, if upheld on appeal, would stop scores of others from reaching the courts. Never before, experts say, has a science hearing of this kind affected so many claims at once.

Legal experts said that the ruling could have a major impact on the tens of thousands of breast implant cases awaiting trial across the country, encouraging other judges to look more closely at the scientific foundation of the evidence that plaintiffs' lawyers want to introduce in court.

In his decision, U.S. District Court Judge Robert E. Jones acknowledged that his action "goes further in evaluating and eliminating plaintiffs' claims than any other opinion in breast implant litigation pending in this country."

The ruling has significance beyond breast implant litigation, said Bert Black, a Dallas lawyer who is chairman of the American Bar Association's section on science and technology.

Some legal experts said the ruling was a stunning blow to plaintiffs' lawyers who had argued that breast implants cause disease.

Frederick Ellis, a Boston lawyer who was the lead lawyer for the Oregon plaintiffs, and who represents a total about 200 women in suits against implant manufacturers, said Judge Jones "has misunderstood the law," in assessing scientific conclusions rather than simply the methods by which the science was done.

He said he is certain the ruling will be reversed upon appeal.

As many as a million American women had silicone breast implants and, in the past decade, tens of thousands of them have sued implant manufacturers claiming that silicone leaked from the devices, oozed throughout their bodies, and made them ill.

The amount of litigation was so overwhelming to the major implant manufacturer, Dow Corning Corp., that it declared bankruptcy.

Pub Date: 12/19/96

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