Spaniards sue German firm over thalidomide

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Associated Press

Posted on October 14, 2013 at 1:30 AM

Updated Monday, Oct 14 at 8:06 AM

MADRID (AP) — Some 200 Spaniards born with severe defects after their mothers used the drug thalidomide during their pregnancies decades ago took the drug's German producer to court Monday to seek 204 million euros ($277 million) in compensation.

Thalidomide was a sedative prescribed between 1950 and 1960 to combat morning sickness. Thousands of children whose mothers took the drug were born with abnormally short limbs and in some cases without any arms, legs or hips. The birth defects were reported in Europe, Australia, Canada and Japan.

Some victims have won compensation cases against drug producer Gruenenthal Group's distributors in other countries, but the German company has long refused to agree to settlements. It officially apologized to victims in 2012.

Ignacio Martinez, lawyer for The Spanish Association of Thalidomide Victims, which represents some 200 alleged victims born between 1960 and 1965, told the court in Madrid that the drug's prospectus gave no warning of side effects.

When thalidomide was pulled off the market, no campaign was carried out to explain to doctors and patients its potential effects on fetuses, he said. Martinez also argued that the German company kept distributing the notorious drug in Spain six months after it was taken off the market in other countries.

Gruenenthal's lawyers rejected the compensation demand, saying the case had exceeded the statute of limitations. The German firm's representative in Spain, Guillermo Castillo, also insisted that thalidomide was withdrawn from the country in December 1961, as it was elsewhere in Europe.

The court further heard that Gruenenthal offered a total 120,000 euros in compensation to Spanish victims some years ago — an offer that was rejected.

More than 30 Spaniards bearing the effects of the drug attended the one-day trial.

"Us being alive is the best evidence, because many (victims) have already died," said Matilde Roman, 52, whose right arm was severely deformed at birth. "My mother took thalidomide, but she was illiterate and nobody explained to her the damage of this medication."

The amount being demanded as compensation is based on multiplying 20,000 euros by the level of disability per plaintiff, which is measured in percentage points. A ruling in the case is expected within a month.

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