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Trial Starts in France for Makers of Fraudulent Breast Implants

Update Date: Apr 17, 2013 10:12 AM EDT

The largest trial ever to occur in France is underway. With over 5,000 plaintiffs and 300 lawyers, the case against Poly Implant Prosthèse (PIP), once the third-largest supplier of breast plants, will likely be an emotional one. The implants of the company were found to have abnormally high rupture rates and were made out of a material that was never approved by regulators in an effort to save money.

Between 2001 and 2010, Reuters reports that 300,000 women were fitted with the breast implants. Though most of the civil plaintiffs are French women, 80 percent of the breast implants were sent overseas to 65 countries. According to Agence France Presse, about half of the implants were shipped to Latin America, a third sent to other countries in western Europe, 10 percent to eastern Europe and the remainder sent to countries in the Middle East and Asia.

The trial includes so many people that it cannot be held at the courthouse in Marseilles. Instead, at an estimated cost of 800,000 euros or $1 million, the proceedings are taking place at the city's congress center, in a hall that seats 700 people. An additional three rooms are outfitted with screens for plaintiffs and spectators to watch the events.

PIP implants had a reputation for being a good value and relatively inexpensive. The Guardian reports that this reputation was achieved by filling the implants with industrial- and agricultural-grade silicone. This homemade mixture saved the company 1 million euros each year, and was used in 75 percent of the implants. While the executives acknowledge that the company used this unregulated mixture, they say that there is no link between the materials used and breast cancer.

Police discovered the company's secret when they found cans of industrial silicone in a van, while raiding the company's premises. Though there has not been a proven link between the materials used and breast cancer, French authorities urged women who had received the breast implants to have them removed, because they have a higher rate of rupture than other implants. Half of the French women who received the implants have done so. France is also the only country where women have received compensation for the implants at a cap of 4,200 euros, or $5,500, Radio France Internationale reports.

Some lawyers for plaintiffs have asked that plastic surgeons and German safety standards firm face trial as well, for asserting that the implants were fine. German firm TUV Rheinland is facing a separate trial in France, where PIP distributors from various countries are suing the firm.

Many health officials have said that the materials are not toxic and do not cause breast cancer. However, a study is currently underway on the matter in France, and and chief executive and founder of PIP, Jean-Claude Mas, will face trial for manslaughter of a woman who died of cancer following the implants.

"The pain we went through was psychological and physical... we were mutilated, re-operated on," Dominique Terrier from Normandy said to France 3. "It's not easy to survive that after cancer."

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