Since the Dalkon Shield was take off the market in 1974, there have been some 320,000 lawsuits worldwide against A.H. Robins, the drug company which marketed the Shield. About 6,000 of these claimants are Canadians.
In 1985, A.H. Robins filed for bankruptcy after settling nearly 10,000 lawsuits, costing them $490 million. But considering the firm’s profits in 1986 – $82 million – it seems that filing for bankruptcy was just a ploy to gain time. In fact, the firm has requested, and been granted, four extensions to prepare a financial reorganization plan.
Robins was scheduled to unveil its reorganization plan in court proceedings in Richmond, Vermont, this past July 22. At the time, it was feared that a recent bid by Rorer Group Inc. to buy A.H. Robins and split off two special trust funds for Dalkon claimants, would result in yet another extension.
The activities in Vermont did not go unnoticed in Canada, as Canadians joined Americans with a rally and picket in front of the Robins branch office in Mississauga.
In June 1985, Trish Polhill founded the Birth Control Victims Association, in Toronto, which was set up as an information and help centre for women suffering from the effects of the Dalkon Shield. BCVA offers emotional support, information on the IUD and will also act as a liaison to the medical profession. According to Trish, Robins had originally set up a fund to provide in-vitro fertilization to victims who wished it, and offered to cover all costs involved. The firm later reneged on its proposal.
In the U.S., client’s fees to lawyers are based on contingency, but in Canada lawyers want costs up front. This probably accounts for the greater amounts of damages awarded so far in America.
The most sensational case against R.H. Robins was won by a Kansas woman in 1979. She was forced to have a hysterectomy after using the Dalkon Shield. She was awarded $600,000 in compensation, and $6.2 million in punitive damages. The large amount in punitive damages is punishment for Robins having withheld crucial information about the Shield’s health hazards.