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Breast Implant Judgment Upheld

July 17, 1998

BOSTON (AP) _ The aching joints and fatigue still plague Florence Vassallo, vestiges of breast implants that ruptured.

Her lawyer says there’s no indication that the problems will end. But she has been compensated.

The state’s highest court on Thursday upheld a $2.5 million judgment in favor of the Everett woman who claimed her silicone gel breast implants made her sick.

The decision, which affirmed a jury’s 1996 finding against Baxter Healthcare Corp., came on the heels of a proposed settlement with another manufacturer announced last week.

Under that deal, some 170,000 women who say silicone breast implants made them sick would get $3.2 billion from Dow Corning Corp. The most any one claimant would get would be about $250,000.

The award for Mrs. Vassallo, 69, and her husband, Vincent, is significantly higher. Vincent Vassallo had filed for his suffering related to his wife’s disease.

``I’m not angry at Baxter, I’m just glad that it’s over with,″ Mrs. Vassallo said. ``I just wish they would settle everyone else’s cases because I know that there are a lot of other women out there that are suffering.″

Mrs. Vassallo went to court against Baxter in 1996 after eschewing a settlement agreement that would have paid her $25,000.

In 1977, at age 48, Mrs. Vassallo had breast implants for cosmetic reasons. They were made by Heyer-Schulte Corp., a now-defunct California subsidiary of a company later bought by Baxter. Fifteen years later, she complained of chest pains and a mammogram found that her implants had ruptured.

When the implants were removed in April 1993, the surgeon found permanent scarring in her pectoral muscles that the doctor attributed to the silicone gel.

She still suffers from chronic fatigue, joint aches, hair loss and other immunological problems, said her attorney, Fredric Ellis.

A Middlesex Superior Court jury found that the breast implants were defective, unreasonably dangerous and could cause an autoimmune disease. The jury awarded her $1.1 million, and the trial judge assessed an additional $600,000 in attorneys’ fees.

With interest, the sum is now about $2.5 million, Ellis said.

The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment, as well as the admission into evidence testimony from scientists that silicone gel can cause atypical autoimmune disease.

Baxter, located in Deerfield, Ill., had argued that the testimony should be excluded because there was never an epidemiological study performed to support the plaintiff’s claims.

A Baxter lawyer said company officials were reviewing the decision and had no comment.

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