NEW YORK (CNNfn) - Dow Corning Corp. said Wednesday it has agreed to a plan that would pay $3.2 billion to more than 170,000 women who claimed illnesses related to ruptured silicone breast implants.
The pact also will end Dow Corning's three-year stay in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Arthur Spector announced approval of the settlement.
Dow Corning said in a statement that approximately 170,000 women with breast implants have filed claims in the case.
"This includes not only women who wish to participate in the settlement today, but also a substantial number of women who have no current problems but who want to retain their right to participate in the future," the company said.
The $3.2 billion will be paid to women seeking damages for immune-system illnesses allegedly caused by silicone leaks from breast implants, as well as monetary payments as compensation for ruptured implants.
Dow Corning said the settlement trust will operate over a 16-year period.
Plaintiffs also will be allowed to pursue individual claims against Dow Corning, though the agreement places a cap on the damages that can be awarded.
Both sides called the settlement a fair one.
"On balance, it's good news for hundreds of thousands of women who have been waiting to receive compensation from Dow Corning," Tommy Jacks, an attorney for the plaintiffs, told CNNfn.
Barbara Carmichael, Dow Corning vice president, would not comment on how much each woman would receive under the settlement, noting that specifics of the agreement will be disclosed over the next two months. But both she and Jacks hailed the options that the settlement affords women seeking damages.
Plaintiffs, for example, could opt to receive $5,000 to have their implants removed without waiving their rights to receive settlement funds or individual compensation.
"The settlement gives a woman the option to pick the choice that best suits her needs," Carmichael said.
Although the agreement also stipulates that plaintiffs can pursue individual claims against Dow Corning, Jacks said there probably will be relatively few individual suits.
"I think most women would want to accept the terms of the settlement because, for most women, it is a fair settlement," he said.
Dow Corning said the plaintiffs will have a two-month period in which they will be asked to vote on the plan. Assuming a favorable vote, the plan then will go through a court-supervised confirmation process.
Logistics for a payment plan will follow confirmation.
Despite the settlement, Dow Corning maintains its implants do not cause the broad assortment of health problems blamed on them, like Lupus and immune system disorders.
"The evidence from our perspective is still extremely strong and it's gotten even stronger that implants are not the cause of those diseases. But even so, it's time now to agree to disagree, find a common ground and move towards a settlement," Carmichael said.
Dow Corning Corp. is a joint venture with shares equally owned by the Dow Chemical Co. and Corning Inc.
Dow Chemical (DOW) shares fell 21/32 to 96-3/32 in Wednesday midday trading, while Corning (GLW) shares slipped 1/16 to 35-3/16.