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Eight more people in UK sue Grünenthal and Diageo over thalidomide

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: (Published 09 June 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g3806
  1. Clare Dyer
  1. 1The BMJ

A group of people who claim that they were damaged by the drug thalidomide before their birth have launched a compensation claim at the High Court in London, more than 50 years after they were born.

Eight claimants have filed a negligence action against the drug’s German manufacturer, Grünenthal, and against Diageo, which took over the drug company’s UK distributor, Distillers. The solicitor for the claimants said that more people were expected to join the legal action, which alleged that the companies failed to check that the drug was safe for fetuses when taken by pregnant women.

Thalidomide was used by expectant mothers from 1958 to 1961 to control symptoms of morning sickness, but it caused extremely shortened limbs and other deformities in many babies. Thousands of babies worldwide were affected before the drug was removed from the market.

After a 10 year legal battle, Distillers agreed in 1973 to compensate British victims, but many who did not meet the strict criteria for thalidomide injuries at the time missed out on compensation.

Fraser Whitehead, of the law firm Slater & Gordon, said that the new claims were based on more recent knowledge of how the drug worked. “What is different is that the evidence on the causation of injury is based on modern medicine.” He said that his clients’ injuries were different from the traditional pattern of bilateral shortening of limbs. Some clients had been rejected for compensation, and others had never sought it after being told by doctors that their injuries were not caused by thalidomide.

In 2012 Diageo settled a claim by an Australian thalidomide survivor, Lynette Rowe, for an undisclosed sum. The next year it agreed to pay A$89m ($50m; €61m; US$83m) to settle claims by more than 100 Australians and New Zealanders represented by Slater & Gordon. And in 2013 a Spanish court ordered Grünenthal to pay compensation to 22 Spaniards with disabilities caused by the drug.


Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g3806

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