Saturday 25 May 2019

Concerns over delay in birth defect drug cases

Health Minister Simon Harris. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Health Minister Simon Harris. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Tim Healy and Eilish O'Regan

A High Court judge has expressed concern at the slow progress of around 26 cases of people suing for compensation over the thalidomide drug.

Mr Justice Seamus Noonan said the horizon for getting to trial seemed to be further away.

Thalidomide was given to pregnant women more than 50 years ago but led to children being born with physical deformities.

The judge said while not criticising anyone, it was a "huge concern" the cases do not have any prospect of getting on "in the medium-term never mind the short-term". Many of those bringing cases may not survive to see a trial. He was speaking when giving directions on how matters should proceed in advance of the hearing of a preliminary issue over whether the cases are statute barred.

The cases, initiated in 2013, are against the manufacturers of thalidomide, German firm Grunenthal GmbH, the Irish distributors TP Whelehan Son & Co, and the Ministers for Health and Environment. They are all contesting the cases in which it is alleged the drug, launched as a sedative in Germany in 1957, caused deformities in unborn children when it was given to pregnant mothers.

The alleged wrongdoing dates back to the 1960s and this group was not compensated.

John Gordon SC, for the plaintiffs, complained about the difficulties in obtaining medical records to progress cases. The defendants were filibustering by making various applications for discovery of documents in advance of trial, he said.

Lawyers for the defendants disputed the plaintiffs' claim about delays or that they had "swamped" the court with various applications.

Speaking after the hearing John Stack, chair of the Irish Thalidomide Association called on Health Minister Simon Harris to intervene to release the records.

Irish Independent

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