Transcript - Breast Implants - News Hour with Jim Lehrer - May 30, 1996

Silicone Gel Breast Implant Litigation
News Hour with Jim Lehrer
May 30, 1996

36:44 - 39:33

Jim Lehrer: Now an update on the lawsuits filed against breast implant manufacturers Elizabeth Brackett of WTTW Chicago reports.

Elizabeth Brackett: Jimmy Blair had a double mastectomy in 1980 because of a strong family history of breast cancer. Her breasts were reconstructed with silicone-gel implants. She avoided cancer but says the breast implants ruined her health. The 47-year-old Blair can hardly get around and everything hurts.

Jimmy Blair (client of K.B. Moll & Assoc.): My hands are really bad, a lot of times in the morning they'll be swelled all up and then in the evening they'll go down, but they ache all the way out to the ends of my fingers, my ankles and my hips. My hips are the worst as far as getting real bad catches, they even catch when I lay down at night.

E. Brackett: Blair's husband, Ron left his one hundred thousand dollar a year traveling sales job to stay home and help his wife. He works at the Firestone plant in DeKalb, Illinois now, but hasn't been able to get hired full-time, so he has no health insurance to help with his wife's care.

Ron Blair (client of K.B. Moll & Assoc.): Terrible to have to sit and watch your wife age so fast, she was totally active and she was always an inspiration to me and now all of a sudden you have to sit and watch her deteriorate.

E. Brackett: The Blairs had hoped to get some financial relief when breast implant manufacturers agreed to a four and one quarter billion dollar settlement last year, the largest class action settlement in history. The Global settlement encompassed all implant manufacturers because Blair was diagnosed as one hundred percent disabled she would have received $780,000 from the settlement.

But the Global settlement fell apart when the class ballooned to 440,000 women. Manufacturers realized with so many women claiming damage even the four and one quarter billion dollars would not be enough to pay all the claims. Dow Corning, the largest manufacturer, filed bankruptcy. The five other manufacturers afraid of a slew of private law suits agreed to a revised settlement but with much lower awards.

Women with implants manufactured by Dow Corning must wait to see what the bankruptcy judge decides about compensation. Jimmy Blair's attorney, Kenneth Moll, says now Blair and other women in the revised settlement have a difficult choice to make.

Kenneth B. Moll: Critical decision is that they have to decide whether or not to accept the offer, being offered to them by the settling defendants or opt out and file a lawsuit.

E. Brackett: The most Jimmy Blair would be eligible for under the new settlement is $100,000. The Blair's have spent many hours trying to decide what to do.

R. Blair: See it only talks about $100,000.

J. Blair: I don't think that's going to do anything so.

R. Blair: It won't even pay your medical bills.

J. Blair: I know that. You know, what are they going to do with it, I mean, we're just going to have to let him advise us, but I think that were going to have to opt out.

R. Blair: I don't know hun, I just wish . . . it would take all the money in the world it wouldn't change the fact that you feel like you do.

J. Blair: Yeah, I know.

E. Brackett: Carla Hobbs-James is facing the same dilemma, Hobbs-James who lives in Chicago, with her 22-year-old son had a double mastectomy after a cancer diagnosis five years ago. Soon after breast reconstruction with silicone gel implants she began having problems.

Carla Hobbs-James (client of K.B. Moll & Assoc.): I had arthritis in every joint of my body. I couldn't use my fingers. When I stepped out of bed, I couldn't put pressure on my feet because the joints were very sore. I had constant diarrhea, it was like food just went through me.

E. Brackett: Hobbs-James symptoms improved after she had her implants removed, but she still experiences problems. She lost her job because of absences and now sells a fruit and vegetable concentrate out of her home. She had hoped to use money from the Global settlement to pay off medical bills. Now she worries that the current offer will also fall apart.

C. Hobbs-James: I really think that I'll probably opt out. I need to talk with my attorney and see what my options are, but the Global is so uncertain, that that's what I'm leaning towards.

E. Brackett: Moll advises most of his clients to opt out of the revised settlement and file an individual lawsuit.

K. Moll: Unfortunately the manufacturers have worn a lot of the women down a lot of the attorneys down, have scared a lot of women into thinking that they might not receive anything, if they don't receive this paltry or meager amount that they are being offered or that they are offering women now. Unfortunately, some women are going to accept the revised settlement program. We strongly urge that if you have a good case, opt out, proceed with litigation. We need to show the public that silicone implants cause problems.

E. Brackett: Those words angered the chief of plastic surgery at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago. Dr. Thomas Musto says it is the lawyers that cause problems, not silicone gel implants.

Dr. Thomas Musto: I do think that silicone gel implants in a patient who is properly informed are a reasonable and safe choice so I think by any stretch of the imagination most of those four hundred thousand even if they have health problems are not related to their implants. So I do think that this is a case, yes of a case of legal excess in our country.

E. Brackett: Musto points to research done since the original Global settlement was reached, that does not show a major health risk from silicone gel implants.

Dr. Charles Heneken, chief of preventive medicine at the Harvard Medical School, authored the latest study looking at the possible association between the implants and connective tissue diseases such as arthritis.

Dr. Charles Henken: Our study provides reassuring evidence against any large hazard of connective tissue disorders in women who have had breast implants. It raises the possibility, but by no means documents a small hazard of connective tissue disorders among women with breast implants.

E. Brackett: Heneken's research follows the same general conclusions as two earlier major studies reported in the New England Journal of Medicine: the Mayo Clinic study and the Harvard Nurses Health study. But attorney Moll says none of those studies looked at atypical connective tissue disease which is what many of Moll's clients claim they have. He also argues that the studies are tainted because Dow Corning and other manufacturers partially funded them.

K. Moll: What we have are doctors, we don't pay them, they actually saw women that had reactions to silicone and wrote about it. That doesn't get as much media attention as Dow Corning putting in millions of dollars to fund an institution like Mayo Clinic or Harvard hiring big name doctors and getting it published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

C. Henken: Dow Corning had nothing to do with the design, conduct, analysis or interpretation of the data from our study. And I think it would be unfortunate if we believed that because the study was funded by industry one couldn't believe the results.'

E. Brackett: Women who decide to file individual lawsuits will have to decide whether they think juries will find the research convincing. Hobbs-James wanted to file her own lawsuit, but in her case Moll advised staying in the settlement.

K. Moll: Unfortunately, the manufacturer of your implants is a company that has little money and would not survive any type of lawsuit so the recommendation would probably be to stay in the revised settlement program and take whatever you can rather than opt out and risk not receiving anything. How do you feel about that?

C. Hobbs-James: Sick. I thought I was sick, I'm really sick now. Based on what they projected, you know the projection at first, a $50,000 would hardly pay for the pain and suffering that I've had from the silicone implants.

E. Brackett: But in Jimmy Blair's case Moll recommends that she does file her own suit. The manufacturers of Blair's implants, 3-M and Bristol-Meyers are on solid financial footing. Blair said she is willing to wait the 10 to 12 years it might take to settle the lawsuit because the $100,000 offer just doesn't meet her needs.

J. Blair: The $100,000 is not going to last 10 to 12 years, you know if my health gets any worse in the next, like it's grown in the last three or four years, then you know, its not just going to go anywhere, so what difference is this going to make. Might as well see if I can get some help that will kinda relieve the family and help take care of me as I get older and things because that just wouldn't do anything for me.

E. Brackett: Blair and Hobbs-James and all the other women in the lawsuit will be getting letters determining their status in the revised settlement within the next three months. They will then have 45 days to make a very difficult decision. Take the money now or sue on their own.