A 49-year-old Melbourne woman who was born without arms and legs is set to lead a class action for Australian victims of the drug thalidomide.
Proceedings will be issued in the Supreme Court of Victoria against the German chemical manufacturer Grunenthal and the UK-based Distillers Company (Biochemicals) Ltd.
The class action, run by law firms Gordon Legal and Slater and Gordon, is for Australians born between January 1 1958 and December 31 1970, whose mothers while pregnant consumed thalidomide – which was invented by Grunenthal and licensed to Distillers to sell in Australia – and as a result suffered a range of significant physical consequences.
Peter Gordon from Gordon Legal says he was delighted last year to assist Ken Youdale in the negotiation of an ex gratis settlement for Australia’s known thalidomide survivors.
“In the course of doing that pro bono work, I came to realise that there were a significant number of people affected by thalidomide who have never been compensated, or even had the psychological satisfaction of an explanation for the physical malformations they have lived with for 50 years,” he said.
“The legal action we are taking is an attempt to address those issues.”
Lawyer Michael Magazanik from Slater and Gordon recently spent a month in Europe, speaking with ageing witnesses and examining long-buried documents. He says information uncovered shows the extent to which both Grunenthal and Distillers were determined to make their drug a best seller in Australia
“Grunenthal and Distillers treated Australia as a priority and ensured this country was flooded with thalidomide,” he says.
“By the time investigators identified thalidomide as the cause of the skyrocketing rate of birth abnormalities, there were another 8 million thalidomide tablets in warehouses around Australia, ready to be sent to doctors’ surgeries and chemists.“
- The class action follows last year’s successful settlement with the British group Diageo for 45 Australian and New Zealand thalidomiders by Ken Youdale with the pro bono assistance of both Gordon Legal and Slater and Gordon.
- A separate class action begun last October by the two law firms against Grunenthal for Australians and New Zealanders is continuing in the Victorian Supreme Court.