On 2 December 2013 Gordon Legal, Slater and Gordon and Diageo plc agreed to a settlement of $A89 million for Australian and New Zealand thalidomide claimants.
The settlement of two class actions brought on behalf of Australian and New Zealand thalidomide claimants was announced before the Supreme Court of Victoria.
The class actions had been against Grünenthal, the German inventor and manufacturer of thalidomide, and the UK Distillers companies which distributed the drug in Australia.
And while Grünenthal still refuses to assist Australian and New Zealand victims of its catastrophic drug, Diageo (which acquired Distillers in 1986) has agreed to a settlement to assist local thalidomide claimants.
In July 2012 Diageo agreed to a compensation payment for the lead Plaintiff, Lyn Rowe, and since then lengthy negotiations have followed for other claimants.
Ms Rowe’s lawyer Peter Gordon, from Gordon Legal, says the settlement reflects the generous and understanding approach of Diageo to thalidomide claimants.
“Diageo has behaved in a compassionate fashion, and that should be recognised. In fact, in my more than 30 years of personal injury litigation, I have never seen a company behave so constructively.
"Diageo did not itself distribute thalidomide in Australia but it has done the right thing by negotiating this settlement.”
Mr Gordon said he had taken on the thalidomide litigation in 2010 in an effort to improve the lives of obviously deserving people.
“It has been difficult and challenging litigation but this settlement will now see a group of people receive compensation, a result that goes some distance to finally addressing a very grave historic wrong.”
Ian Wright, Diageo Director, commented: “We are very pleased that, working closely with Gordon Legal, we have been able to resolve these claims through an out of court process.
“Diageo has always endeavoured to act responsibly and empathetically with respect to people injured by thalidomide, as evidenced by our continuing relationship with the UK Thalidomide Trust and the Australian Trust settlements of recent years.
“We believe that the settlement reached today is both fair and equitable to all involved in this very sensitive and difficult situation. I am pleased that Diageo has again acted responsibly for people who have suffered as a result of thalidomide.”
Thalidomide damaged unborn children when taken in early pregnancy. The drug was very popular as a sleeping medication, sedative and morning sickness drug in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Lawyer Michael Magazanik, of Slater and Gordon, says that the settlement is a welcome relief for thalidomide claimants.
“It is not often that badly injured people can achieve justice 50 years after they were wronged. So this is a tremendous result.”
Mr Magazanik said many of the people who will be compensated under the deal were disgusted that the drug’s inventor, Grünenthal, had refused to contribute to the settlement.
“Every single Australian thalidomider was damaged by thalidomide made by Grünenthal in Germany and then shipped via England to Australia. Yet Grünenthal refuses to pay a cent to its Australian victims.”
Mr Magazanik said Grünenthal was facing legal action by thalidomide survivors in the United States, the UK and Spain. “The day is coming when Grünenthal’s shocking behaviour in relation to thalidomide is exposed, and the company is forced to face up to the consequences.”
Monica McGhie, a 50-year-old Perth thalidomide survivor who was born without limbs, says the settlement will change her life.
“I never thought this day would come,” she said.
“Life has been a daily struggle for 50 years. This settlement will not take that hardship away but it means I can look to the future with more confidence, knowing I can afford the support and care I need.”
The individual amounts paid to thalidomide claimants will not be disclosed.
This settlement which remains subject to court approval will end both thalidomide class actions in the Supreme Court of Victoria – including the one brought by Lynette Rowe. Both proceedings were being conducted by Gordon Legal and Slater and Gordon.