pounds 17m fund for breast implant victims

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The Independent Online
Hundreds of British women have won the right to sue for a share of a $25m (pounds 17m) fund set aside for victims of faulty silicone breast implants.

Lawyers acting for three American companies which produced them agreed yesterday that British women should be entitled to compensation. Some may now win tens of thousands of pounds.

A court in Alabama last year ruled that only American women should be allowed to claim damages for injuries caused when the implants ruptured or led to silicone-related diseases.

Lawyers representing women in London, Nottingham and Sheffield appealed against the decision, along with others outside the US.

In what was described as a breakthrough for the British victims, lawyers representing the US companies, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Baxter and 3M, agreed that the foreign women had a right to compensation and said that a $25m fund had been ring-fenced to pay them.

Paul Balen, of Freeth, Cartwright, Hunt, Dickins, in Nottingham, said of the decision: "I suspect that it will affect thousands of British women but that only hundreds will qualify for compensation because they have to be able to prove the source of the implant and the injury it caused."

Women will not be able to claim if their implants were provided by Dow- Corning, another American company which was the largest manufacturer of implants. It was the subject of an earlier global action.

So many claimants came forward to sue Dow-Corning that the company made it itself bankrupt rather than face the courts. Victims are still fighting for compensation. British women with a claim against it have until 14 February to claim.

A separate action was brought against the three other companies. In an order to be made by the judge supervising the breast implant settlement, the three manufacturers have agreed to "settle the claims of all foreign claimants".

Only women who have already registered claims as part of the earlier global settlement will be entitled to seek a share of the $25m fund. An estimated 10,000 British women have registered claims.

In the UK, 100,000 women have breasts which are not entirely their own. Of these, 60,000 chose to have the extra bits for cosmetic reasons while 40,000 had implants after operations for breast cancer.

Most implants are made of a silicone envelope with a liquid of gel-like silicone filling. Silicone was assumed to be inert until the late-Eighties when evidence emerged in America that it could "bleed" and provoke skin and joint inflammation and diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.

In the past four years there have been 18 studies of possible links between silicone and certain diseases and none has found a connection. One of the biggest, at Harvard Medical School, examined 87,500 nurses of whom 1,2000 had implants. It found no greater incidence of illness among women who had implants than those who had not.