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Judge expresses concern over slow progress of Thalidomide compensation cases

Many of those bringing cases may not survive to see a deal, High Court hears

Representatives of the Irish Thalidomide Association outside the Dáil in 2010. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

A High Court judge has expressed concern about the slow progress of 26 cases in which people are suing for compensation over the Thalidomide drug.

Mr Justice Séamus Noonan said the horizon for getting to trial seemed to be further away despite the best efforts of the court to case manage the matter.

It was a “huge concern” that 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 said.

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 their pregnant mothers. The alleged wrongdoing dates back to the 1960s.

They have been case managed on their way to trial for the last few years and were back before Mr Justice Noonan on Wednesday for continuing management.

John Gordon SC, for the plaintiffs, complained about the difficulties for their clients in obtaining their medical records so that they can progress their cases. The defendants were filibustering by making various applications for discovery of documents in advance of trial.

He also disputed claims that there would be demands for a huge amount of discovery. Grunenthal has been involved in Thalidomide cases in a number of jurisdictions including Australia where 750,000 documents were involved and all the company had to do to get those was “press a button”, he said.

Lawyers for the defendants disputed the claim they were responsible for delays or that they had “swamped” the court with various applications.

Maurice Collins SC, for Grunenthal, said it had taken 15 months for the plaintiffs to agree that the issue of whether the cases are statute barred should be dealt with as a preliminary issue before the main case.

Mr Justice Noonan directed a hearing on July 31st to deal with the issue of requests for particulars of the plaintiffs’ claims. He said the court could be appraised on that date on the issue of what progress has been made between the parties in relation to requests for voluntary discovery of documents.

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