$2.4bn breast-implant offer

The Dow Corning Corporation yesterday offered a settlement worth an estimated $2.4bn (pounds 1.5bn) to women who claim they have suffered adverse effects from the company's silicone breast implants. The company said it would acknowledge that the implants can cause medical complications, but not disease.

Around 200,000 women worldwide say they were injured or made ill by the implants. They could receive between $1,000 and $200,000, depending on the seriousness of their condition and medical costs.

Ed Blizzard, a lawyer representing the women, said the compensation appeared to be insufficient and objected that there had been no advance discussion with the committee representing the claimants.

He said the lawyers would not make any recommendation about whether the women should accept.

A Dow Corning representative said it was prepared to settle because it knew "breast implants can cause local complications and in some cases, rupture". It does not accept they can cause disease. Without a settlement the company faces bankruptcy, because the amount of outstanding claims will still be open. Any settlement has to be accepted by two-thirds of women concerned. After that, the exact amount depends on how many accept.

Mr Blizzard singled out two points that could militate against agreement.

First, the company would be able to deny one of the women's main claims - that the implants can cause disease.

Second, Dow Corning's two parent companies would be absolved of responsibility.

Last week one of them, the Dow Chemical Company, lost a lawsuit in Louisiana, where a jury ruled that it was "negligent in testing silicone for breast implants, lied about the risks and conspired with Dow Corning to conceal the dangers". Damages have yet to be fixed in that case.

Dow Chemical is not in financial difficulty, and there is a view that any settlement with Dow Corning would not only be less advantageous to the women claimants, but let the parent companies off the hook. "This plan provides a bail-out for Dow Chemical," said Mr Blizzard yesterday, "without them having to contribute a dime towards the plan."

So far, about 100,000 women have settled claims with other breast-implant manufacturers, receiving between $5,000 and $100,000.