WASHINGTON - Some resin manufacturers that had sworn off participating in the biomedical devices market because of its high liability costs will be anticipating a House of Representatives vote on tort reform and product liability this week. Capitol Hill committee staffers predict some firms may return to the market should the measure pass the full Congress. But two not returning will be DuPont Co. of Wilmington, Del., and Dow Corning Corp. of Midland, Mich.
A Commerce Committee-approved version of the ``Common Sense Product Liability Reform Act of 1995,'' sponsored by Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., would place a cap on what resin makers would be liable to pay in punitive damages in a court award that finds fault with a medical device in which their resin is included - if that device is approved by the Food and Drug Administration. That cap is the greater of $250,000, or three times the amount of economic damages awarded in a suit.
But Mike Ricciuto, corporate spokesman for DuPont, said: ``We have exited that market - permanently implantable medical devices - and will not return. We never made biomaterials, really. Our materials are for industrial applications.''
But, he added, ``We hope [passage of product liability legislation] will open up the supply again,'' prompting competition among firms that market polymers for the biomedical market.
On Jan. 1, 1993, DuPont provided its customers with as long as a three-year grace period to stop using its plastics in biomedical applications. Other companies declared either a partial or total retreat from the market in light of the relatively tiny amount of plastic needed to make such things as hip replacements and jaw implants.
Ricciuto said DuPont faces about 5,000 liability lawsuits, some of which involve jawbone implants that used its polytetrafluoroethylene products.
Dow Corning spokesman T. Michael Jackson said his company also will not return to the biomedical market. Dow Corning faces a $2 billion judgment and 19,000 liability lawsuits concerning material it supplied for breast implants, Jackson said.