German firm wins thalidomide appeal


MEMBERS of Spain’s Thalidomide Victims association (Avita) suffered a blow when Madrid courts accepted German pharmaceutical company Grünenthal’s appeal against the previous ruling which sentenced it to pay compensation to victims.

The tranquilising drug was prescribed to women for morning sickness during the 50’s and early 60’s and caused birth defects including abnormally shortened limbs and in some cases babies born without arms, legs or hips.

The association first presented their case in 2012 and in November 2013 Madrid judge Gema Susana Fernandez Diaz sentenced the German company to pay €22,000 for each disability percentage point as recognised by the Spanish Health Ministry to 23 victims, considering that the company was guilty of not taking necessary safety measures before selling the drug. 


Following an appeal by Grünenthal, Madrid’s provincial court has now agreed that the statute of limitations for the plaintiff’s case has expired as over 50 years have passed since the mothers took the drug.

Jose Riquelme, president of Avite association, said that the company just does not want to pay. “The company killed 5,000 babies at the time and left many affected, and that fact hasn’t expired, it’s still there,” he stated. Vice-president of the association Rafael Basterrechea admitted that members felt let down by the new sentence.

Born in 1965, Basterrechea has a 90 per cent grade of disability. His mother took thalidomide as a tranquiliser to help her sleep. “Nobody told her the drug was dangerous, it was sold everywhere as completely safe. When I was born with much shorter arms than normal – I also have eyesight and hearing problems and my liver and kidneys are affected – she was told it was due to divine will or a bad foetal position,” he explained.

Meanwhile representatives of the German company declared that in their opinion the plaintiff’s had not proved their claims and a valid case would be impossible 50 years after events. The company has offered victims the chance to apply for help from the Contergan Foundation which provides lifetime benefits of up to €7,000 per month depending on the grade of disability, but association members were not convinced by this and mentioned they intend to keep fighting and if necessary take their case to the Supreme Court.



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