More than 100 Australian and New Zealanders who suffered birth defects as a result of thalidomide have won an $89 million settlement.
People left with birth defects after their mothers took thalidomide have won an $89 million settlement, but the company that made the drug will not pay a cent.
More than 100 Australian and New Zealand victims, including a woman who was about to lose her home, will be compensated in the landmark settlement announced to the Victorian Supreme Court on Monday.
The $89 million will be paid by the drug’s distributor Diageo, with thalidomide’s manufacturer Grunenthal not included in the settlement.
A class action against Grunenthal will no longer proceed.
The settlement ends a long compensation battle by the thalidomide victims, many of whom were born with missing or shortened limbs.
Monica McGhie was born 50 years ago without arms and legs and says the money will make her life a lot easier and help her stay healthy.
“I never thought this day would come,” she said.
“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.”
Lawyer Michael Magazanik said that in a sense Grunenthal was getting off lightly because it partnered with a responsible corporate citizen in Diageo.
He described Grunenthal’s conduct as appalling.
“Every single Australian thalidomider was injured by a drug made by Grunenthal in Germany,” he said.
“Despite that, Grunenthal still will not pay a cent to its Australian and New Zealand victims.
“Fifty years on, Grunenthal will still not fess up to its shameful behaviour in relation to that drug.”
Peter Gordon, another lawyer involved in the case, said it was a bittersweet victory for thalidomide victims.
“The result we have achieved today is a vindication of their courage, and it is a vindication of the proposition that right around the world there are people like them who have missed out and whose time has come,” he said.
“I spoke to a woman last week who was about to lose her home and won’t lose it now. There are stories like that.”
Diageo corporate affairs director Ian Wright said the company was very sorry for what had happened and the suffering as a result of thalidomide.
“We hope very much that this will go some way towards helping them individually and as a group, to face the rest of their lives with some security and will bolster the bravery and dignity which they show every day,” he told AAP.
“We believe that the settlement reached today is both fair and equitable to all involved in this very sensitive and difficult situation.”
The settlement comes after Diageo last year reached a multi-million dollar settlement with prominent Australian thalidomide victim Lynette Rowe.
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.
Grunenthal apologised for thalidomide for the first time in August last year.
The settlement is subject to final court approval in February, with victims likely to receive payments as early as March.