Tuesday, April 20, 1999 | 4:09 a.m.
RENO, Nev. - A lawyer representing Nevada women in breast implant lawsuits says a proposed reorganization plan by Dow Corning would deny efforts to pursue action against the company's parent firm.
An objection on behalf of 55 Nevada women was filed Monday in U.S. Bankrupcty Court in Bay City, Mich.
Reno attorney Geoffrey White, who represents more than 100 women in such lawsuits, said the bankruptcy plan would impose a $400 million cap on the total amount Dow Corning would have to pay out in litigation judgments. A separate fund of $1.8 billion would be used to pay women who agree to settle without going to trial.
The plan also exempts Dow Corning's parent firm, Dow Chemical, from liability.
The objection to the plan was filed by White's brother, John White Jr., a bankruptcy lawyer, on behalf of the women.
"Dow Chemical would be released from liability and sucked under the protective umbrella of the Dow Corning bankruptcy," Geoffrey White said Tuesday.
That provision is of particular concern to women in Nevada, where the only judgment so far against Dow Chemical for breast implants has been awarded and upheld.
Dow Corning was once the biggest maker of silicone gel breast implants, but lawsuits forced it into Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization in 1995.
That same year, a district court jury in Reno awarded Charlotte Mahlum and her husband $14.2 million in damages from Dow Chemical.
Mrs. Mahlum, who formerly lived in Elko but moved to southern Nevada, elected to have silicone gel breast implants after a mastectomy in the late 1980s. She had the implants removed in 1993 after experiencing health problems.
Late last year, the Nevada Supreme Court upheld the jury verdict but reduced the judgment to $4.2 million.
Other state courts have ruled Dow Chemical cannot be sued for implants made by Dow Corning.
Dow Chemical has maintained that it had nothing to do with the making or testing of breast implants manufactured by its subsidiary.
John Musser, a Dow Chemical spokesman, said courts have ruled that claims against Dow Corning's shareholders such as Dow Chemical are essentially duplicates of those filed against the company itself.
"We fundamentally feel ... that we should be released from any liability to Dow Corning breast implant products," Musser said Tuesday.
He said he does not think the objection filed by the Nevada women will derail the bankruptcy plan.
"I don't think it will be a material impact," he said. "There are a lot of other objections. There are lots of claimants and other objections not necessarily related to the release mechanism for Dow Chemical shareholders.
"Other breast implant manufactures devised a similar settlement package and that was overwhelming accepted by the women," Musser said. The joint plan offered by Dow Corning is more attractive financially and I think it's reasonable logic that this plan will be successful in a similar majority."
A hearing on the reorganization is scheduled for June 28 in Bay City.