Dow Corning: Back From the Dead

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Sometimes you have to lose to come out a winner, and no one knows this better than the brass at Dow Corning, one of the makers of the now-infamous silicone breast implant. In a preliminary statement, a federal judge announced Tuesday that Dow Corning will pay $4.5 billion in order to come out of bankruptcy — a figure that includes $3.2 billion in damages to women who claim they were injured by the chemical giant's negligence. "This is one of the great cases of product liability in American legal history," says TIME senior writer Adam Cohen. "The whole case is very controversial; there are so many sympathetic plaintiffs saying they've suffered a variety of health problems." There are also conflicting reports surfacing from the scientific community — the most recent of which, in June's Journal of the National Academy of Sciences, found no evidence that silicone causes health problems.

This ruling, which comes after extensive settlement negotiations, may mark the beginning of the end of a landmark case. Dow Corning filed for bankruptcy in 1995, after thousands of women filed lawsuits against the company, seeking damages for numerous illnesses allegedly brought on by their breast implants. Despite the stunning amounts of cash it compels the company to turn over, Tuesday's settlement is good news for Dow Corning — the plan allows it to pay back its creditors and return to business. Not just yet, though: The specifics of the bankruptcy ruling, to be released next week, could raise some hackles and send the settlement to appeal. Particularly if the plaintiff groups (or their lawyers) feel slighted by their share of the damages.