PARIS, FRANCE (APRIL 16, 2013) (REUTERS) - The trial of the head of the PIP breast implant company which was at the centre of a global health scare implicating hundreds of thousands of women last year was set to open in Marseille on Wednesday (April 17) with lawyers for the civil plaintiffs vowing to press for maximum damages for their clients.
However, they said that Jean-Claude Mas who will enter the dock for the first time charged with aggravated fraud for using industrial grade silicone in his company's implants, is probably broke and would likely lack any money to settle damages brought against him.
Last year, the French government had advised some 300 000 women to have the implants manufactured by Poly Implant Prothese removed amid concerns about their unusually high rupture rate.
Authorities elsewhere, including in the U.K. and Brazil, said women who had had the implants should visit their surgeons for checks.
Some 5100 women among whom 220 from outside France registered as plaintiffs in this case.
One of lawyer acting for French and Venezuelan victims in Paris said on Tuesday that Mas and his co-defendants were insolvent and wouldn't face much of a financial risk.
"At the end of the trial, he risks receiving a criminal conviction like his accomplices. He could also face civil penalties. These could be particularly high given the number of victims and the damages that are being sought. But once again, the victims will need to find assets to be able to obtain what the courts will give them. So, criminal conviction, prison, damages, not much in the end," said Arie Alimi, a lawyer representing a hundred victims.
If found guilty, Mas and his four co-defendants face maximum prison sentences of five years and hefty fines
Alimi spelt out his clients' expectations.
"To be recognised as victims and to try to receive a compensation since they need to do some surgery to withdraw the prosthetics. Most of the Venezuelan patients have not had their implants withdrawn. They don't have the money. To date, there is virtually no chance of the foreign victims being compensated," he said.
Many of the plaintiffs are hoping the trial will open the door to more widespread compensation, especially for women outside France which is the only major country that has compensated women for having the implants replaced.
Alimi called on European Union should also be forced to create a compensation fund for victims, arguing that its passive controls that is responsible for the sanitary catastrophe.
The trial in Marseille is set to last until May 17th.