Thalidomide was sold in a number of countries across the world from 1957 until 1961 when it was withdrawn from the market after being found to be a cause of birth defects in what has been called "one of the biggest medical tragedies of modern times". Pregnant women who took this drug as a sedative and reliever for morning sickness gave birth to babies with severe limb deformities. Now after so many years thanks to negotiations by an 86-year-old former World War II airman from Sydney, Australian thalidomide victims will share in a $50 million compensation pool. British company the Diageo Group has agreed to annual payments of $3 million dollars for the next 20 years to the 45 surviving victims in Australia and New Zealand.
Mr. Ken Youdale’s first daughter was affected by this drug and he negotiated the payment along with one of Australia's leading plaintiff lawyers, Peter Gordon, even though Diageo had no legal obligation. It was after his daughter's death in 2003 that Mr Youdale sought compensation on behalf of the remaining thalidomide victims in Australia and New Zealand. He said, “I was able to say: 'Look, this is actually what it's costing these people to live today, where do you think they're getting the money to go on from? However, are they going to get more money? It's impossible, you just have to help.'” He recalled his journey saying, “The British company said: 'Well, we have no liability for that because we did a different arrangement in Australia. We didn't have a continuing trust operation, you inherited the money at a certain age, which was 25, and how you spent it was your responsibility but nevertheless we'll look at the situation'.” However the deal was finalized this week in Sydney.
Another survivor and Thalidomide Australia president Brett Nielsen enthused, “It's an incredible day. It is a fantastic day…We have been watching this process go now for some time and it's almost surreal that it's actually happened, it's brilliant.”
Mr Gordon also spoke of Mr. Youdale saying, “I think it was his charm, his intellect and his doggedness which has convinced this company, which I've got to say also acted out of the best of motives…These people had signed away their rights and it became clear to me that Diageo were acting out of a sense of corporate social responsibility.” Mr Gordon is well known for his lawsuits against big companies, over often fatal health problems caused by silicone breast implants, tobacco, asbestos, and, most recently, the arthritis drug Vioxx, which was found to have caused heart attacks.