Thalidomiders Legal Group



Advances in medical science have revealed there may be many more hitherto undiagnosed victims of the drug thalidomide. As a result, renowned personal injury experts Leigh Day & Co and Russell Jones & Walker (RJW) have joined forces to form the Thalidomiders Legal Group to pursue compensation claims on behalf of those people in the UK born with disabilities as a result of their mothers taking the drug, considered by many to be one of the biggest medical tragedies of modern times.

The direct result of many doctors not knowing the range of injuries that could be caused by thalidomide means many people may have been incorrectly diagnosed, according to The Thalidomiders Legal Group, headed by Fraser Whitehead of RJW and Martyn Day of Leigh Day, which is part of a global litigation action taking place that includes Australia, the U.S.A and Spain.

Those people whose injuries were caused by thalidomide may have missed out on compensation, often because their injuries were wrongly considered not caused by the drug. Medical science has evolved and developed since the time of thalidomide and it is now believed that it may well have caused a wider range of symptoms than was previously thought.

It is now over 50 years since thalidomide was launched, available without prescription, across Europe; it was sold in a number of countries across the world from 1957 until 1961 when it was withdrawn from the market after being found to be a cause of birth defects.

Original compensation deals were made in the 1970s and thalidomiders are entering late middle age: many find their physical condition deteriorating and whilst being a beneficiary of the Thalidomide Trust has proved a significant help, many have needs that are not being adequately met. Grünenthal, the German company that developed thalidomide, has never compensated UK thalidomiders.

Thalidomide is associated in the public mind with malformations of the arms and legs. It was the epidemic of a rare condition called phocomelia (seal limbs), which led doctors to investigate its cause and ultimately to prove it was thalidomide. But almost any part of the body can be affected, with defects involving the ears, the eyes, and the nerves of the face being particularly common.

However thalidomide also causes internal injuries including to the heart, kidneys, brain and nervous system, and many of these serious internal defects required ongoing treatment and in numerous cases led to death. Some defects could only be detected by tests years after birth; other thalidomide-related conditions only developed years after birth, such as problems with the spine and knees.

Whitehead and Day said: “We believe the criteria applied until now for determining who is and who is not a thalidomider may be too narrow. For example, people born with only one affected limb or with unaffected thumbs have generally been excluded from compensation, but the epidemiological studies undertaken in the wake of the disaster upon which those criteria are based were inadequate.”
As well as known thalidomiders, it is also likely that there are many people in the UK with a variety of medical conditions currently not ascribed to thalidomide but who are, in effect, thalidomiders. Some thalidomide-related conditions for example were not present at birth but have only developed years later. All of these people may be entitled to compensation. The Thalidomiders Legal Group intends to take action on behalf of both sets of people.

“There have been recent advances in the science of how thalidomide works which show that existing criteria may be wrong,” said Whitehead and Day. “Thalidomide is now known to have a very wide range of effects. In particular, in recent years scientists have established that the key property of thalidomide that causes limb defects is the fact that it stops blood vessels growing (it is highly "anti-angiogenic"). This property can also explain why thalidomide can cause defects to almost any part of the body.

“Given thalidomide's wide range of effects, it could in principle cause almost any defect present at birth. Many such defects can also have other causes, such as genetics. But these days there are tests available for many of those. If the tests are clear and the mother took thalidomide, then the cause of the individual's condition is likely to have been thalidomide.”

As part of the programme of global litigation actions, the Thalidomiders Legal Group is also working closely with Peter Gordon, a well-known lawyer from Melbourne who is pursuing claims on behalf of a number of Australians.
Whitehead and Day added: “‘We have been working together for six months and we now know the evidence of negligence by Grünenthal and the Distillers Company (Biochemicals) Ltd (now Diageo) is overwhelming and the evidence that thalidomiders (recognised and unrecognised) have been inadequately compensated is undeniable. We see our job as doing our utmost to put that right.”


25 June 2011