Hagens Berman has filed several lawsuits alleging that new research in the uses of thalidomide – a drug that caused thousands of horrific cases of deformities in children – suggests that the drug caused far more deformities in the U.S. than were reported during the height of the pharmaceutical crisis of the early 1960s.
History of Thalidomide
Invented by German drug company Grunenthal, thalidomide was widely used throughout Europe during the late 1950s and early 1960s, resulting in thousands of deaths and extreme, disfiguring birth defects when used by women during pregnancy. The drug was never approved in the United States, but the new lawsuit filed today by law firm Hagens Berman alleges that as many as 2.5 million doses of the drug were distributed by more than 1,200 doctors to more than 20,000 people, including pregnant women.
According to Steve Berman, the attorney representing the plaintiffs, researchers concluded that thalidomide causes bilateral birth defects, such as two missing or shortened arms or hearing loss in both ears. As a result, babies born with unilateral defects, such as one deformed limb, or hearing loss in only one ear were not deemed thalidomide victims, even when their mothers were given the drug while pregnant.
However, new research involving thalidomide as part of a treatment regimen in cancer patients show that many of the assumptions used in the 1960s are incorrect.
The lawsuit alleges that this new understanding of thalidomide means that many individuals who experienced unilateral defects may have been misdiagnosed when their doctors told them thalidomide could not have been the cause.
Among other things, attorneys believe that thalidomide likely works through a vascular mechanism, rather than a neural one, as was previously believed.
According to the lawsuits, the group of companies that developed, manufactured, tested and distributed thalidomide were all responsible for any babies born with defects as a result of exposure to the drug.
The complaint claims that the defendants are either guilty of negligence for distributing the drug.
Hagens Berman filed the lawsuits on behalf of over a dozen plaintiffs who allege that they have serious birth defects as a result of in utero exposure to thalidomide.
One of the plaintiffs is professional race car driver Philip “Hook” Yeatts, who drives in the U.S. Legends Series and was the 2008 Masters champion. Yeatts was born without his right arm or right leg, a severely curved spine and a deformed tongue. He overcame his disability, competing in a modified car and rising through the ranks to become a professional driver.
Yeatts’ mother suffered from morning sickness during pregnancy and was given thalidomide by her doctor, according to the complaint.
Yeatts would never have been considered a victim of thalidomide because the predominant medical view held that thalidomide could not cause unilateral injuries like his.
Attorneys representing the plaintiffs are asking the court to award compensatory and punitive damages for the injuries suffered as a result of exposure to thalidomide.
March 9, 2015: Judge Diamond awarded sanctions against Hagens Berman in three thalidomide cases because he thought they should have been dismissed as untenable by at least April of last year. Hagens Berman has responded as below.
Hagens Berman respectfully disagrees with Judge Diamond’s findings that we should have dismissed three cases by April of last year when it became clear they were untenable. Spokesman Nick Styant-Browne for the firm said:
“Although we recognize these cases raised challenging legal and factual issues, we believed in good faith that the claims of these newly discovered thalidomide victims should be pursued.
Regrettably, the Judge determined to adopt the report of his Special Master without bothering to address the substance of the firm’s objections made in its extensive brief setting out the multiple flawed bases for the sanctions. In particular, the Judge relied on facts that were not in the record, and ascribed bad faith motives to the firm without any foundation. We look forward to the opportunity for the Third Circuit to hear and address our arguments as soon as we are able to appeal."
Sept. 27, 2013: In a decision impacting more than 50 lawsuits brought by thalidomide victims in the United States, U.S. District Judge Paul Diamond yesterday rejected several pharmaceutical companies’ argument that the statute of limitations has passed.
Aug. 9, 2012: Hagens Berman has filed a complaint on behalf of 11 alleged thalidomide victims. The complaint includes new documentation, including recently translated documents uncovered for the first time in German archives and internal FDA documents. Download the Complaint.
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