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O.C. Women Doubt Payoff Is Fair Deal : Compensation: Some say individuals may be shortchanged if more of them opt for global settlement from breast implant manufacturers.

March 24, 1994|LESLIE BERKMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LAGUNA HILLS — Marie Walsh, the Laguna Hills woman who organized a self-help network for breast implant patients, said she has no intention of accepting any part of the $3.75-billion settlement that manufacturers are offering women like her who say they have suffered injuries from silicone gel breast implants.

"I will be opting out based on the gross damage I have suffered and the wanton lack of compassion and neglect on the part of the manufacturers of all the breast implants," Walsh said. "We haven't had one manufacturer yet come forward and say I'm sorry."

Walsh, who suffers a painful, arthritic-like condition she blames on silicone gel breast implants, said she will go forward with her own lawsuit even if she finds she is entitled to the maximum $1.6-million award that the settlement would offer an individual.

"That would never compensate me for what I've been through," she said. "I have been on permanent disability since 1989." She said she is receiving chemotherapy to treat a problem with her immune system that threatens to destroy her heart.

Walsh said that since the breast implant settlement was anticipated a month ago, she has been receiving an average of 20 calls a day from women around the country asking for advice.

She said she does not believe many women will obtain fair compensation from the settlement and thus she advises the majority in her own organization to go ahead with their own lawsuits. The exception, she said, would be women who cannot go to court because the statute of limitations has run out or those who worry that the manufacturer of their breast implants may be financially insolvent and therefore unable to pay the damages that a jury would award.

In an attempt to give some guidance to women wondering whether to accept the settlement offer, Breast Implant Information Foundation, the organization that Walsh founded, is holding a meeting from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Friday at Western Digital in Irvine.

Ramon Rossi Lopez, a lawyer representing Walsh and about 400 other women who have medical complaints they contend stem from silicone breast implants, said that at the meeting, he will try to outline the criteria that could make the global settlement more or less attractive to an individual.

He said he would recommend the settlement to women who do not have cases that would be compelling to a jury. This, he said, includes women who might have had other cosmetic surgeries that a jury would consider excessive or whose medical complaints may have been caused at least in part by some other physical condition.

Lopez said that while previous drafts of the settlement specified ranges of awards that would be given to the women, depending on the severity of their ailments, the number of women who ultimately will join in the settlement is an unknown that could sharply affect payments to individuals.

On Wednesday afternoon, Debbie Wilfert of Buena Park, who says she suffers muscle, nerve and joint pain from silicone gel implants, was typing a list of questions to ask her lawyer about the settlement. She said she found the last draft of the settlement "very confusing."

Wilfert said she is very skeptical that anyone will receive the maximum amounts written in the draft, because she believes the number of women opting for the settlement will swell.

"If many more file, we could get as little as $10,000 each," she said, "which would not even cover the cost of surgery to get the implants out."

Bobbie Clark of Anaheim, a self-employed court reporter who says her career has been jeopardized by silicone that migrated from her breast implants into her wrists, said she distrusted the manufacturers' intentions.

"I frankly think they want to get this thing settled before research finds a lot more problems," she said. Although the global settlement agreement provides a fund for future claims, she questioned the feasibility for women who accept a settlement now to apply for more money if their disability worsens. The manufacturers "are already disputing what is related to silicone," she said.

Clark said the decision women must make within the next few months about whether to opt for the settlement is "very scary."

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