Suit against Thalidomide maker set for Australia

AP News
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Posted: Dec 19, 2011 4:27 PM
Suit against Thalidomide maker set for Australia

Members of an Australian class action lawsuit who blame a German pharmaceutical company's anti-morning sickness drug, Thalidomide, for causing birth defects won the right on Monday to have their case heard in their own country.

German drugmaker Grunenthal had requested that the lawsuit be heard in Germany, because the company and many of its witnesses are based there. But the Victoria state Supreme Court dismissed Grunenthal's application on Monday.

Thalidomide was given to pregnant women in the 1950s and 1960s as a treatment for morning sickness, but was yanked from the market in 1961 after it was linked to birth defects. The drug led to deformities in thousands of babies worldwide.

Lynette Rowe, a Melbourne woman who was born without arms or legs after her mother took thalidomide while pregnant, is leading the Australian class action against three parties: Grunenthal, UK-based Distillers Company _ which sold the drug in Australia _ and Diageo, the successor company to Distillers. The lawsuit claims that Grunenthal should have known thalidomide was linked to birth defects when it was on the market.

The lawsuit does not specify a monetary figure, but asks for compensation for the victims' pain and suffering, lost wages and future medical care. The class action is open to Australians born between Jan. 1, 1958, and Dec. 31, 1970, who were injured after their mothers took thalidomide while pregnant.

About 100 people have expressed interest in joining the lawsuit, according to the law firms Gordon Legal and Slater & Gordon, which are representing the plaintiffs.

Rowe's father, Ian Rowe, who has helped his wife care for Lynette since she was born, said he was grateful for the court's decision.

"Wendy and I are getting older now. I'm almost 80. And we really need to know now that Lynette will be provided for when we can no longer do it ourselves," he said in a statement.

Over the years, lawsuits over the drug have been filed across the world, with many settled for millions of dollars. Last year, the British government officially apologized to people who were harmed by the drug, after earlier agreeing to pay out 20 million pounds ($31 million) to thalidomide's victims.

"The events (that are) the subject of these proceedings took place 50 years ago at a time that was completely different to today," Grunenthal said in a statement. "Grunenthal believes that it acted responsibly in the development of thalidomide. Our actions were consistent with the state of scientific knowledge and the prevailing standards for pre-marketing and testing of the pharmaceutical industry in the 1950s."

Diageo representatives did not return messages seeking comment.