Thalidomide settlement opens door for Kiwis

STACEY KIRK
Last updated 14:56 18/07/2012

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A groundbreaking settlement has opened the door for New Zealanders to claim a share of a multi-million dollar compensation for birth defects caused by the drug thalidomide.

Australian woman Lynette Rowe has been awarded significant compensation from a distributor of the drug in a Melbourne court.

Compensation from UK distributor company Diageo will provide her with care for the rest of her life.

The full extent of the settlement has not been revealed but it is in the millions - enough to relieve her ageing parents who have dedicated themselves to her needs for the past 50 years, Melbourne lawyers Slater and Gordon said.

Rowe is the representative plaintiff in a class action lawsuit which has been going for a number of years.

About 10,000 babies worldwide were born with severe deformities. There are 10 Thalidomiders in New Zealand.

Diageo promised British survivors $35 million in compensation in 2009.
Manufactured by German Company Grunenthal, thalidomide was introduced in the late 50s to treat morning sickness and aid sleep.

It was withdrawn from public sales in 1960 when it was revealed it was the cause of serious birth defects in a generation of children.

It is still used in the treatment of some cancers, including multiple myeloma.

Thalidomide drugs were distributed in Australia and New Zealand around 1960 and 1961 by Distillers, which became part of Diageo in 1997.

Rowe's lawyer Peter Gordon, from Gordon Legal, said negotiations would now begin on the remaining cases.

"For most of the last month, while this settlement was being discussed, Lyn's concern has been not so much for herself but instead for the plight of other unrecognised thalidomiders in Australia and New Zealand.

"She has insisted that they get an opportunity to put their cases through a fair and equitable process. Diageo has done the right thing and made that promise to Lyn," Gordon said.

Slater & Gordon's Michael Magazanik, who with Gordon conducted Rowe's claim, said the legal action had also been against Grunenthal, but the pharmaceutical giant refused to contribute to the settlement.

Magazanik said Diageo had agreed to include New Zealand claimants in discussions as well as Australians.

"I have been to New Zealand this year to interview witnesses and speak with thalidomiders. We've always regarded New Zealand as a very important part of this case."

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