Peter Gordon's friendship with a thalidomide victim who did some building work for him was the catalyst in his role in a $60 million settlement for victims of the drug.
Gordon and around six lawyers from his former firm, Slater & Gordon, (Peter Gordon left the firm to start his own practice early this year), negotiated the settlement pro bono on behalf of 45 surviving thalidomide victims in Australia and New Zealand. The settlement allows for an annual $3 million payment to be shared amongst the victims, which could last for another 20 years.
Thalidomide was introduced as a sedative in the 1950s, with its use linked to birth defects including phocomelia, in which babies are born with limbs that look like flippers.
"No amount of money could ever properly compensate the victims for what they went through," Peter Gordon told Lawyers Weekly. "But this settlement takes into account the costs associated with living with thalidomide and allows victims to improve the quality of their lives."
Gordon got involved in the case when a builder doing work for him, a victim of thalidomide, put him in contact with Ken Youdale, the father of a thalidomide victim.
Youdale had estimated the cost of living for thalidomide victims, who were born in the late 1950s and early 1960's, and presented a claim to Diageo, the British beer, wine and spirits company that is the holding company for brands including Guinness and Johnnie Walker. Diageo had purchased Distillers, the distributors of thalidomide, in Australia in the 1960s.
After what Gordon described as "several negotiations lasting several hours", between himself and Youdale, a decorated 86 year-old World War Two veteran, Gordon decided to take on the case.
"Around 98 per cent of the compensation cases for people classified as being victims of thalidomide occurred in the 1970s," Gordon said. "In my opinion, the settlement of these claims was very modest indeed."
The payments in the 1970s were full and final settlements, with negotiations between Diageo and the lawyers involved this time around relying on the British multi-national making payments on a goodwill gesture. Gordon praised the nature of the negotiations he had with senior management at Diageo, and also praised the role of Freehills partner John Emerson, who acted for Diageo.
"John did a good job and I have the utmost respect for him," Gordon said.
Gordon said that negotiations are continuing with Diageo, as more victims of thalidomide who were not covered by the just negotiated settlement come forward.
"I will continue to act on this matter and have even had more victims contact me today," he said.