Australia, NZ thalidomide victims win $81 mln settlement

SYDNEY Mon Dec 2, 2013 2:30am EST

SYDNEY Dec 2 (Reuters) - More than 100 Australian and New Zealand victims of thalidomide have won a A$89 million ($81 million) settlement from the parent of the company that distributed the drug that caused thousands of birth defects around the world.

Thalidomide, a popular drug for morning sickness about 50 years ago, damaged unborn children when taken in early pregnancy.

Diageo PLC agreed to settle two class-action lawsuits brought on behalf of Australian and New Zealand victims in the Supreme Court of Victoria, law firm Slater & Gordon said on Monday.

The lawsuits were filed against German drugmaker Grünenthal, which invented and produced thalidomide, and companies associated with UK Distillers, which Diageo bought in 1986.

Diageo agreed to pay compensation to a lead plaintiff in July 2012, followed by lengthy negotiations for other victims.

"It has been difficult and challenging litigation but this settlement will now see a group of people receive compensation, a result that goes some distance to finally addressing a very grave historic wrong," said Peter Gordon, a lawyer from Gordon Legal, which conducted the proceedings with Slater & Gordon.

Monica McGhie, a 50-year-old victim in Perth who was born without limbs, said the settlement would change her life.

"Life has been a daily struggle for 50 years," McGhie 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."

The individual amounts paid to each claimants would not be disclosed, the law firms said.

Drugmaker Grünenthal was not involved in the settlement and has not paid compensation to the Australian and New Zealand victims, the law firms said.

Grünenthal, which apologised to thalidomide victims last year, has said it has paid about 500 million euros ($680.77 million) as compensation by 2010.

Diageo paid about 28 million pounds ($45.87 million) to UK victims thalidomide victims in the 1970s.

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