Pharmaceutical Litigation Attorneys

DES Daughters And Serious Injury

Doctors once considered Diethylstilbestrol to be something of a miracle drug which could all but end most pregnancy complications, but instead of a panacea, the drug created an entire generation of victims. The synthetic estrogen was created in 1938, and after a brief series of clinical trials, the Food and Drug Administration allowed doctors to prescribe it to pregnant women in 1947. At the time, many doctors believed that low estrogen levels caused most pregnancy complications, and even though that idea was somewhat debunked by the 1950s (and is entirely debunked today), doctors kept administering it in large quantities. About that same time, researchers began to question DES’ safety, leading to a 1971 FDA declaration that the drug was unfit for pregnant women. But prescriptions continued for several more years, because the agency did not recall the drug.  

DES Daughters (and DES Sons)

In the 1940s and 1950s, many pregnant women went to general practitioners. These doctors probably had no idea that they were prescribing a powerful drug which was, at best, only marginally effective. The FDA took adverse action against DES based on a 1971 study which linked Diethylstilbestrol with vaginal clear cell adenocarcinoma, an unusual and aggressive form of cervical cancer that is difficult to treat and has a high mortality rate. DES daughters, or women who were exposed to the drug in utero, developed this disease at an alarmingly high rate. Over the years, Diethylstilbestrol has been linked with other serious health issues as well, including:
  • Infertility and Reproductive Health: Scientists have classified DES as a teratogen, a group of substances that essentially poison the uterus. Later in their lives, women who were exposed to the drug while in utero often deal with a variety of reproductive issues, including ectopic pregnancy, preterm delivery, and spontaneous abortion.
  • Breast Cancer: DES exposure increases the risk of breast cancer, albeit not to the extent of vaginal clear cell adenocarcinoma.
  • Obesity: DES is also a known obesogen, so victims often develop unexplained obesity in their adult years.
DES sons have similar issues, as they have higher instances of testicular cancer, infertility, and low testosterone.  

DES Granddaughters

Researchers now know that DES is an epigenetic drug that actually has the power to alter a person’s genetic code. As a result, the physical abnormalities that affect DES daughters and sons may affect their children as well. Many researchers fear that these effects may continue indefinitely as they are passed down from parents to children. The good news is that the side effects seem to have diminished somewhat, as DES granddaughters and grandsons are likely to have fertility issues but, so far, are not more prone to reproductive cancer. The bad news is that the psychological effects of DES exposure, such as severe depression, may be even worse.  

Claims for Damages

Because the DES exposure occurred so many years ago, one would think that these cases would be difficult to prove. But two plaintiff-friendly legal rules make the process much easier. One is the market share liability doctrine. This rule is now widely used in products liability cases but was actually conceived in a DES daughters case. In most of these cases, the victim/plaintiff names several potential defendants but, through no fault of his or her own, the victim/plaintiff cannot identify the actual tortfeasor (company which sold DES to the victim/plaintiff’s mother). If a substantial share of the possibly responsible companies are named in the lawsuit and the jury awards damages, each defendant is responsible for a share of damages based on its market share at the time the drug was sold. Another key doctrine is the discovery rule. This principle states that the three-year statute of limitations is tolled (suspended) until the victim knows about the injury and has a plausible reason to connect that injury with someone else’s negligence. Successful plaintiffs are normally entitled to compensatory damages for medical bills, lost wages, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment in life, and other consequential damages, as well as significant punitive damages which punish the tortfeasor’s wrongful conduct and help deter others from doing the same thing. DES daughters must often deal with lifelong and/or serious injuries. For a free consultation with a pharmaceutical litigation attorney in New York, contact Napoli Shkolnik PLLC. After hours appointments are available.
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