Thursday 14 December 2017

High Court gives directions on how Thalidomide compensation cases should progress

The High Court, Dublin
The High Court, Dublin

Tim Healy

The High Court has given directions on how cases in which a number of people are suing for compensation over the Thalidomide drug should be progressed.

Some 26 cases are being brought, 16 of which are already before the court, and lawyers for the plaintiffs sought directions on how the cases should proceed. Some are urgent because of the medical conditions of people involved, the court heard.

Thalidomide, launched as a sedative in Germany in 1957, was first reported in 1961 as being linked to deformities in unborn children after it was given to their pregnant mothers.

The German manufacturers of the drug, the Irish distributors and the State, who are all being sued, claim the cases are barred from proceeding as a result of the statute of limitations. This places a time limit of generally between two and six years depending on the type of case and the time of a person's knowledge of an alleged wrong.

Manufacturers Grunenthal GmbH, distributors TP Whelehan Son & Co, and the Ministers for Health and Environment all deny the claims.  

Grunenthal also applied to Mr Justice Seamus Noonan for directions over whether the issue of the cases being statute-barred should be determined first.

On Friday, Mr Justice Seamus Noonan directed the case proceed in accordance with a schedule put forward by the plaintiffs.

He declined to make an order at this stage in relation to the statute-barred issue but said it was open to the defendants to renew that application at a later stage.  

He did not want the "disabled and impecunious plaintiffs" to be left fighting the case on two different fronts which would be disproportionate to any saving in court time in costs as had been argued by the company defendants as a reason for dealing with the statute point first.

He was satisfied the justice of the case required that he adopt the plaintiffs' schedule for further progressing the case.

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