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The German thalidomide manufacturer Grunenthal has failed in its effort to force a Melbourne woman who was born without arms and legs to conduct her compensation case in Germany.
The trial will now be held in the Supreme Court of Victoria. It is believed to be the first time that the company has had to face court outside its home country.
Gordon Legal and Slater and Gordon, the two law firms representing 49-year-old Lynette Rowe, successfully claimed that the case should be held in Melbourne where the drug thalidomide was sold and consumed by her mother, Wendy.
Miss Rowe leads a class action against Grunenthal, Diageo Scotland Ltd and the UK-based Distillers Company (Biochemicals) Ltd on behalf of Australians born between January 1 1958 and December 31 1970, whose mothers while pregnant consumed thalidomide and who, as a result, suffered a range of injuries.
The drug thalidomide was invented by Grunenthal and licensed to Distillers to sell in Australia. It was frequently prescribed for pregnant women suffering morning sickness. It was withdrawn from sale in Germany in November 1961 when its use was linked to a range of birth deformities.
Peter Gordon from Gordon Legal says today’s judgement by Justice David Beach means that Grunenthal will face Lynette's claim in the city where she was born and has always lived.
"For 50 years, in countries like Australia, Grunethal has stayed in the background of the thalidomide story and avoided scrutiny. Until now.
"Lynette's victory today provides a pathway for thalidomiders all over the world."
Lawyer Michael Magazanik from Slater and Gordon says: "Grunethal and the Diageo defendants have insisted for decades that they did nothing wrong in the whole thalidomide tragedy.
"If that's right, then they have nothing to fear from a trial and they should welcome this opportunity for a court to assess their conduct."
Lynette Rowe’s father, Ian Rowe, says the family is grateful to the court for holding the hearing quickly, and giving its decision quickly.
“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.”