Martin studies tainted blood lawsuit
by Richard Oakley
The Sunday Times
THE government is considering hiring an American law firm to take a
multi-million-dollar case against US-based drug companies implicated
in infecting Irish haemophiliacs with HIV and hepatitis C.
Micheal Martin, the health minister, has sought advice from the the
attorney-general on filing a lawsuit in America. A decision on
whether to proceed is expected within weeks.
Haemophiliacs and their families from Britain, Italy and Germany have
already filed claims in America. Martin has been approached by Lieff
Cabraser Heimann and Bernstein, a California law firm that began a
case for 15 people last summer. If the minister proceeds, the
contract will go out to tender The firm, which has won damages for
Holocaust victims, cigarette smokers and businesses affected by the
Exxon Valdez oil tanker wreck, is alleging that the drug companies
sold blood products that they knew, or should have known, were
infected with HIV and hepatitis C agents.
The blood products of some of the drug companies cited in the claim
are implicated in the cases of Irish victims. The fact that the law
firm is taking cases for non-Americans prompted the department to
consider pursuing a case there too. Martin's officials became aware
of the case after it was brought to their attention by legal
representatives of the Irish Haemophilia Society.
The department has been examining ways of holding an inquiry into the
role played by US drug companies in the contamination of blood
products ever since the Lindsay report was published in 2002. It
considered setting up a tribunal of inquiry, but received legal
advice that there was no guarantee the American authorities would
provide judicial assistance.
Since then Martin has contemplated sending a team to America to see
what information could be obtained from those willing to volunteer
it, and from material publicly available. Last week in the Dail,
however, he said his department was considering a "potential
The American companies named in Lieff Cabraser's lawsuit include
Baxter Healthcare Corporation, Armour Pharmaceutical Company and
Alpha Therapeutic Corporation.
The lawsuit alleges that the defendants manufactured and sold blood
factor products as beneficial "medicines" when they were contaminated
with HIV and resulted in the mass infection or deaths of thousands of
people with haemophilia.
The defendants are also accused of using or purchasing blood plasma
knowingly obtained from the highest-risk populations, including
prisoners and intravenous drug users. The companies contest the
A number of Irish haemophiliacs have already taken private cases
against drug companies, including Baxter and Armour. In 2001, five
drug firms settled a ¤5.3m case taken by 60 haemophiliacs infected
with HIV from contaminated products.