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Jury awards $10 million in breast implant lawsuit; Bristol-Myers verdict could affect liability in cases nationwide

THE BALTIMORE SUN

A federal jury in Washington handed down a $10 million verdict yesterday against a silicone breast-implant manufacturer that could have far-reaching implications for implant liability cases pending across the nation.

After a five-week trial in U.S. District Court, the jury ordered Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. to pay Brenda G. Meister, a Washington lawyer, $10 million in compensatory damages.

"It's a major victory for plaintiffs in breast-implant cases, absolutely," said Henry Belsky, a Baltimore lawyer.

Jane Kramer, a spokeswoman for Bristol-Myers, last night called the verdict an "aberration," and said the company is considering an appeal.

According to the suit, Meister, 55, who got silicone breast im- plants in 1977, suffered from a connective tissue disease known as scleroderma, which she contended was caused by silicone leakage. The disease causes hardening of the skin.

The implants, which Meister had removed in 1991, were manufactured by Surgitek Inc., a Wisconsin-based company which Bristol-Myers bought in 1982.

Stephen Snyder, a lawyer with the Baltimore firm Snyder, Weiner, Weltchek, Vogelstein & Brown, who represented Meister, said thousands of women settled with Bristol-Myers, receiving anywhere from a few thousand dollars to several hundred thousand dollars.

Debate has raged for years over whether implants cause disease. A court-appointed panel of scientists released a report in December concluding that there is no connection, prompting manufacturers to claim victory.

Yesterday's verdict could pave the way for a shift in the outcomes of thousands of unresolved cases.

"The fact that we were victorious in this case, maybe there'll be a reverse trend," said lawyer Bob Weltchek, who helped try the case.

Pub Date: 1/05/99

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