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Spanish thalidomide victims seek millions from German firm

A Madrid court has begun hearing Spain's first lawsuit against the German firm that produced the drug thalidomide, which caused birth defects in thousands of babies. Victims are seeking millions in damages.

The lawsuit against the German company Grünenthal was filed by Avite, a Spanish association representing people born with severe defects after their mothers took the drug thalidomide while pregnant. The group is seeking compensation of 204 million euros ($276 million) from the company for its some 180 members.

On its website, the group said it hoped the "historical lawsuit," which began on Monday, would "appease the suffering of Spanish victims, which began in their mothers' wombs and continues today, with the amputation of their arms and legs." It estimates that up to 3,000 Spanish babies were born with thalidomide-induced deformities.

The presence of thalidomide victims in Spain was not officially recognized until 2010, when the government granted 23 of them financial aid for their disability.

Thalidomide, known in Germany as Contergan, was frequently prescribed from the 1950s onwards to combat morning sickness in pregnant women. It resulted in thousands of children worldwide being born with defects that included abnormally short limbs or a lack of arms, legs or hips altogether.

Late apology

The drug was withdrawn from the German market in 1961, but continued being prescribed in Spain, Canada, Australia and Japan and other countries for some time longer.

Grünenthal offered to pay the Spanish victims a total sum of 120,000 euros annually, but they have rejected the offer.

The company has refused to accept liability, but last year it apologized for the first time for the scandal, saying it was "very sorry" for its silence toward victims of the drug.

It has also said Spanish victims could seek aid through two German foundations and potentially "receive the same economic benefits" as German victims.

tj/ph (dpa, AFP)

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