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Number of Utahns accepting small settlements in breast implant suits

Thousands of lawsuits challenging the safety of silicon breast implants remain active in courts nationwide, but a number of Utah women have decided to settle with manufacturers.

The amounts are modest, said attorney Ruth Lybbert, who represents Olsen and more than 300 Utah women. But after weighing a check now against uncertain success at trial, many women are taking the deal."There's no celebration when you've lost your health and been disfigured," Lybbert said.

In actions ranging from individual lawsuits to complaints involving 100 plaintiffs or more, Utah women began joining a national spate of lawsuits against implant-makers in 1991.

Eventually, federal suits filed in Salt Lake City and elsewhere in the country were consolidated in Alabama.

A proposed settlement in 1994 would have offered women settlements ranging from $100,000 to $1.4 million, depending on their health. However, that deal collapsed when chief contributor Dow Corning filed for bankruptcy protection.

Since then, three manufacturers - Bristol-Myers, 3M Corp. and Baxter International - have offered much smaller settlements of $5,000 to $100,000.

Two-thirds of Lybbert's clients have implants from those three manufacturers, and many are accepting the settlements.

One is Shirley Olsen, a 56-year-old secretary for law enforcement in Salt Lake County. She received her 3M implants in the 1970s, after seeing her breasts reduced while fighting fibrocystic disease.

The implants hardened and caused her pain for years. Then, they ruptured, sending silicone into her neck, arm and chest.

Her health has improved since she had the implants - and a piece of silicone in her arm - removed last October. She has decided against reconstructive surgery.

Olsen did not reveal the size of her check, except to say the money she received last month will be saved for future medical expenses or her children.

"Not unless you've been through it can you believe what women have to go through, the illness and the pain," said Olsen, who believes the stress and her scarred chest contributed to her divorce.

Payments are based on disability, as defined by the manufacturers.

Patricia LaTulippe, an attorney with the law firm of DeBry and Associates, represents about 400 women, two-thirds eligible for the settlements.

She said some of her clients intend to continue litigation, hoping for higher compensation, but others have reluctantly accepted.

Women diagnosed with specific illnesses also can apply for long-term benefits, but Lybbert said so far, none of her clients have met the strict criteria.

Smaller manufacturers, Mentor and Bioplasty, also have made settlements. But with dramatically less money available, women received between $1,500 and $1,900.

"Those women have really lost out - that's not even enough for an explant surgery," to remove the implants, LaTulippe said.

Women who received implants from Dow Corning have a potential new settlement to consider. Two weeks ago, the company offered up to $2.4 billion to resolve claims involving its breast implants and other medical devices made of silicone, such as joint replacements.