DES Daughter: The Joyce Bichler Story

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Joyce Bichler was the first DES daughter to sue and the first to win her law suit.

The book DES Daughter: The Joyce Bichler Story – paperback: 192 pages,  publisher: Avon, 1981 – is a gripping memoir by a DES daughter that interweaves her experiences of having treatment for vaginal cancer with the experiences of suing a drug company for exposing her to DES.

Joyce Bichler was the first DES daughter to sue and the first to win her law suit. She tells of her testimony, of the court case and of the jury’s verdict.

“… in the much publicized New York case of Bichler v. Eli Lilly & Co., a jury awarded $500,000 to a twenty five year old woman who developed vaginal and cervical cancer as a result of her mother’s ingestion of DES. There the plaintiff alleged joint enterprise liability. This approach, if successful on appeal, is sure to have a major impact on the more than 400 DES suits still pending.”

Taken from: The DES Cases and the Problem of Proving Causation, Liability in Mass Immunization Programs, BYU Law Review, 1980.

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A True Story of Tragedy and Triumph.

“The first case against a manufacturer was brought in 1971, and there are now more than 500 lawyers concerned in DES suits. One typical case is that of Joyce Bichler. In 1953 Dorothy Bichler, Joyce’s mother, was given a prescription for DES for vaginal bleeding while pregnant. Nobody knows who made the drug she was prescribed. The doctor prescribed the drug because he had read about it in a medical journal and knew “gynaecologists all over the world” were using it.

Joyce Bichler was born normal and healthy in January 1954, but in 1971 she had cancer diagnosed and underwent hysterectomy and vaginectomy. In October 1974 she and her father brought an action against Eli Lilly and Company, the Bronx Lebanon Hospital Centre, and the doctor. In March 1975 they also sued the chemist who had sold Dorothy Bichler the drug, but this suit was dismissed in May 1978. The case against the hospital was dismissed in April 1977.

In 1979 the court set a date for the remaining trials, ordered that there should be a separate trial on whether Lilly made the drug that Dorothy Bichler took, and also allowed that the plaintiff could maintain her case against Lilly even if she could not prove that the company had made the drug. The doctor settled out of court for $30 000, and the trials started in May 1979. The first jury decided that Lilly did not make the drug. In a second trial the jury found Lilly liable and awarded $500 000 damages. The trial ended on 16 July 1979, and Lilly are now appealing.”

Taken from: Compensation for Drug Injury, Product liability all dressed up American style, BMJ, 1981.

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