Multi-million dollar thalidomide payout

Last updated 12:35 07/02/2014

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A NZ$96 million compensation payment for people left with birth defects after their mothers took thalidomide has been approved.

More than 100 Australian and New Zealand victims will be compensated in the landmark settlement after the Victorian Supreme Court signed off on the settlement today.

Lawyer Peter Gordon, acting for the victims, told the court the settlement was a fair and compassionate resolution.

He said there were no objectors and no objections.

"No one has submitted any complaint," Gordon said.

The A$89 million will be paid by the drug's distributor Diageo, with thalidomide's manufacturer Grunenthal not included in the agreement.

The settlement ends a long compensation battle by the thalidomide victims, many of whom were born with missing or shortened limbs.

Thalidomide, a drug to counter morning sickness, was withdrawn from sale in 1961.

The drug was distributed in Australia and New Zealand around 1960 and 1961 by Distillers, which became part of Diageo in 1997.

HOW THE FIGHTFOR COMPENSATION PLAYED OUT:    

1954 - German drug company Grunenthal obtains patent for thalidomide

1957 - Grunenthal launches thalidomide, a sedative also used to treat morning sickness and as a sleep aid. Sold in a total of 46 countries under various brand names

November 1961:

- Australian obstetrician Dr William McBride links thalidomide with birth deformities, as does German paediatrician Dr Widukind Lenz

- Grunenthal withdraws thalidomide from sale

March 2, 1962 - Melbourne woman Lynette Rowe born without arms or legs. Her mother took thalidomide to combat morning sickness.

1970 - A criminal trial brought against several Grunenthal executives in Germany over thalidomide collapses

1974 - Some Australian and New Zealand thalidomiders gain compensation

July 2010 - 45 thalidomide victims in Australia and New Zealand who had previously been compensated in the 1970s obtain a further A$50 million ex-gratia assistance payment. Came after case led by Sydney father Ken Youdale.

October 2011 - Five plaintiffs launch class action against Grunenthal on behalf of Australian and New Zealand victims

June 2011 - Lynette Rowe class action launched against Grunenthal and British-based distributor Distillers Company (which became part of UK company Diageo in 1997)

December 2011 - Victorian judge dismisses bid to have class action tried in Germany

July 18, 2012:

- Diageo reaches multi-million-dollar settlement with Rowe and agrees to negotiate other claims in good faith

- Grunenthal says it will fully defend any litigation against it

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July 26: Legal documents reveal German medical professionals had been telling Grunenthal of their concerns about the link between thalidomide and children's deformities for up to two years before the drug was banned in 1961

August 31 - Grunenthal apologises, 50 years after pulling drug off the market

December 2, 2013 - Australian and New Zealand class action claimants reach A$89 million settlement with Diageo plc. Action against Grunenthal dropped.

February 7, 2014 - Victorian Supreme Court signs off on settlement.

- AAP

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