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Recipients of Breast Implants Consider Joining Settlement : Lawsuit: Many women with ailments linked to silicone gel leakage await details of the class-action agreement. Callers flood toll-free line.

March 25, 1994|HENRY WEINSTEIN | TIMES LEGAL AFFAIRS WRITER

Southern Californian women who received breast implants spent Thursday pondering whether to participate in a record-breaking, $3.75-billion class-action settlement of litigation against silicone gel implant manufacturers--or to pursue lawsuits on their own.

Some indicated they probably would join the settlement, while others said they definitely would opt out. But most said they did not yet know enough to make a decision.

"For myself and most of the women I'm speaking to . . . our attorneys are not quite sure what to do about this," said Janie Cruise of Corona, who blames the implants she got in 1983 for a myriad of ailments, including chronic fatigue, short-term memory loss and mixed connective tissue disease.

"The whole thing is very complex," said Cruise, a former marketing representative for a piano company. "There are many more questions than there are answers."

Under the settlement reached Wednesday in Birmingham, Ala., implant recipients could get from $160,000 to $1.6 million, depending on their ages and the severity of their injuries. The amount is determined by an elaborate grid that is a key element of the settlement.

"I fit in very nicely on the grid," Cruise said. But she also expects so many women to file claims that the compensation amounts might be lowered, leaving her and others with an inadequate recovery.

Jacquelyn A. Pascal of San Diego said she was scrambling for information. "Two doctors told me I may have lupus," another disease that qualifies for compensation. "But I need more tests, which I can't afford because I lost my job," she said.

The 52-year-old former insurance agent said she wanted to have her implants removed as soon as possible and was pleased to hear that the settlement provided funds for such an operation.

The massive accord, announced Wednesday, prompted so many calls to a toll-free information line set up by a federal judge in Birmingham, who is presiding over the settlement, that it was overrun at one point Thursday morning.

Women can leave their names and addresses at the toll-free number--(800) 887-6828--and request a copy of the settlement notice. Lawyers said Thursday that they expect the wording of the notice to be approved April 4 by U.S. District Judge Sam C. Pointer Jr. in Birmingham and subsequently mailed.

The phone also was busy at the Beverly Hills home of Sybil Goldrich, co-founder of the Command Trust Network, a nationwide information clearinghouse for women with implants.

"I would suggest that any woman with an implant get a copy of the settlement document and read it over thoroughly," Goldrich said. "I also would suggest that women read it together, set up a buddy system."

Even then, she said, many women will want to consult with an attorney.

"However," Goldrich added, "I would caution women against calling these attorneys who are advertising through 800 numbers all over the country, many of whom know virtually nothing about implants and are simply signing retainer agreements with women and will then refer their cases to another lawyer and get a fee for the referral."

Among factors to consider are one's medical condition and the extensiveness of medical records.

"If a woman can't document any illness at this point, she probably would want to join the settlement," because it works like an insurance policy, Goldrich said. The settlement provides that if a woman develops one of the medical problems listed during the next 30 years, she will be entitled to some compensation.

On the other hand, lawyers said, a woman who has cancer should seriously considering opting out because cancer is not covered under the settlement.

Kali Korn, 43, a Los Angeles woman with severe scleroderma and other medical problems, has decided against taking the settlement, according to her attorney, Sal Liccardo of San Jose.

"There is no way that she could get enough money under the settlement to cover all her medical problems," Liccardo said.

Formerly a fashion consultant, Korn is now bedridden and needs "around the clock attendant care."

Dow Corning and the other two companies who are the funding the settlement, Baxter Healthcare Corp. and Bristol-Myers Squibb, deny that there is any causal link between their implants and medical problems.

The companies said they agreed to the settlement, however, because of the massive costs of defending thousands of lawsuits.

Under the settlement, a woman does not have to prove a link between her illness and an implant. Rather, she simply has to prove that she had an implant and provide medical documentation that she developed one of the illnesses covered.

The settlement also provides funds for medical monitoring of women with implants.

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