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.
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. The full complaint is available here.