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Attorneys for Shiley Plaintiff Hint Settlement

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Attorneys for a woman suing the maker of a potentially defective artificial heart valve said late Tuesday--just hours before the jury was set to begin deliberations--that they were working on a last-minute, out-of-court settlement.

Officials of Shiley Inc., however, denied that a settlement was imminent.

Lawyers for Ruth Barillas, 54, of La Mesa in San Diego County, have accused Irvine-based Shiley Inc. and its parent company, Pfizer Inc. in New York, of fraud, saying that company officials lied to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and misled hundreds of physicians about the safety of the controversial heart valve.

Implanted heart valves made by Shiley have cracked in at least 501 instances, killing more than 250 people, say attorneys on both sides of the case. Some Shiley critics estimate the death toll as high as 900.

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James Capretz, whose law firm represents Barillas, said that negotiations were continuing into the night. “We still have serious points to cover,” he said, “but I am still optimistic.”

Robert Fauteux, a Shiley spokesman, said Tuesday night from his home that he did not know of ongoing talks.

Closing arguments are scheduled today before the case goes to the 12-member jury.

Shiley attorneys were not available for comment.

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During the 4-week-old trial in Orange County Superior Court, Barillas alleged that she has vivid nightmares and has curtailed most activities since learning in 1991 that the Shiley valve she received in 1980 was among a batch that had been recalled.

But Shiley attorney Pierce O’Donnell argued that her emotional problems were as much a result of marital and family difficulties as her knowledge that she has a potentially defective heart valve.

During cross-examination, he introduced evidence that she had sought psychiatric help three years before she learned about the potential dangers of the Shiley valve.


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