NEW YORK (CNNfn) - A jury in a Louisiana court has found Dow Chemical Co., parent company of silicone-gel breast implant maker Dow Corning, "negligent" in the nation's first class-action lawsuit involving the devices.
In the civil trial in New Orleans, the jurors also found the Midland, Mich.-based company did "intentionally remain" silent about the dangers of silicone and "willfully conspire" with its Dow Corning affiliate in hiding the dangers.
Dow Corning is a 50-50 joint venture between Dow Chemical and Corning Inc. Faced with billions of dollars in potential liabilities after a proposed global settlement collapsed, Dow Corning filed for bankruptcy in May 1995.
Polled privately by District Court Judge Yada Magee, the jurors answered "yes" to all seven questions regarding Dow Chemical's role in the marketing and manufacturing of implants.
"Did Dow Chemical knowingly or intentionally remain silent, conceal or suppress information about the harms and dangers of using silicone in the human body?" Judge Magee asked of the jurors.
"Yes," the jurors answered.
During a telephone conference call, Dow Chemical officials and their lawyers said they were "unhappy" with the results. However, Dow Chemical will not likely appeal the ruling until latter phases of the four-phase trial have been completed.
"We believe the jury's finding is not supported by the facts," said John Musser, director of public affairs at Dow Chemical.
"It has numerous grounds for appeal. However, this is not a judgment on the merits and does not preclude our appeal ...We don't believe this is appeal-able and won't be until the end of phase two," Musser told reporters and analysts on the call.
The suit, brought by Marilyn Spitzfaden, was declared a class action representing about 1,800 women who claimed that silicone from ruptured implants was directly responsible for causing various diseases in implant recipients. The plaintiffs were seeking unspecified damages.
Damages will be determined in the next phase of the trial, scheduled to begin on Sept. 29. The case will be presented to the same jury and will look to determine if the implants actually cause illnesses.
The verdict ended a five-month battle in which Dow Chemical argued it never tested the silicone nor offered opinions on its safety.
"What it really means for Dow Chemical is they have to come out of hiding and recognize that they have enormous liability in this," said Ralph Knowles, an Atlanta-based lawyer who is representing plaintiffs in a separate case against Dow Corning.
At one point during the five months, Judge Magee declared a mistrial because both plaintiffs and defendants were accused of establishing too close of a rapport with jurors. However, the mistrial was later reversed.
In 1991, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned all use of silicone-gel implants for cosmetic purposes.
-- Robert Liu