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Jury Awards $42 Million to ‘DES Daughters’

January 8, 1994

NEW YORK (AP) _ A jury awarded $42.3 million to 11 women whose mothers took DES during pregnancy, including eight who were the first to go to trial claiming the drug caused reproductive problems not related to cancer.

″It’s a great victory for the women’s health movement,″ said Sybil Shainwald, the lawyer who filed the lawsuits against three small drug companies.

The state jury Friday gave one cancer sufferer $12 million and two others $10 million each. Damages for women with reproductive problems other than cancer ranged up to $2 million.

Among the plaintiffs was Deborah Shaffer, an Academy Award-winning documentary maker (″Witness to War: Dr. Charlie Clements,″ 1985), who is infertile and was awarded $2 million.

DES, or diethylstilbestrol, is a synthetic hormone manufactured by an estimated 300 drug companies and prescribed to 5 million pregnant women between 1947 and 1971 in an effort to reduce miscarriages.

After doctors reported a link between mothers who took DES and rare clear- cell cervical and vaginal cancers in their daughters, the Food and Drug Administration barred pregnant women from using the drug in 1971. DES remains available for other uses.

DES also has been linked to breast cancer in the mothers, infertility and other reproductive problems in their daughters and infertility and possibly testicular cancers in their sons.

A handful of the cancer sufferers have won jury awards. But the latest case was the first in which a jury considered damages for women who claim the drug caused reproductive problems, said Leroy Hersh, a California lawyer who argued their case and has been handling DES litigation for 15 years.

The plaintiffs can collect only a small percentage of the damages, however. Because the women couldn’t identify which company made the DES their mothers took, under state law the companies are liable only for the percentage of the DES market share they had commanded.

But jurors weren’t told that, so they believed the women would get the full damages, Shainwald said.

Hersh identified the companies as Carnrick Pharmaceutical; Emons Industries, which was known as Amfre-Grant Pharmaceutical when it made DES; and Boyle Drug Co. of California.

A lawyer for Emons Industries didn’t return a telephone message, and attempts to determine phone numbers for the other defendants were unsuccessful Saturday afternoon. The court was closed.

The biggest manufacturer of DES, Eli Lilly & Co., is the defendant in another lawsuit that is scheduled for trial in New York on Monday. An infertile woman whose mother took DES is suing for punitive and compensatory damages.

A spokesman for Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly didn’t return a message left at his home Saturday seeking comment on Friday’s damage awards.

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