Lilly, DES and the Law


The appellate court’s decision requiring Eli Lilly and Company to pay $500,000 to the now 28-year-old daughter of a woman who took diethylstilbestrol (DES), a Food and Drug Administration approved drug, while pregnant with the plaintiff must be regarded as a low point in the history of jurisprudence.

The court awarded the money to the plaintiff despite the fact that it was in full possession of the following facts:

  1. plaintiff failed to prove that Lilly manufactured the DES ingested by the plaintiff’s mother (in 1953),
  2. the physician had prescribed a regimen that was unlike Lilly’s as well as unlike that recommended by any known DES manufacturer,
  3. and the plaintiff, who learned in 1971 that she had an adenocarcinoma, filed suit against Lilly with full awareness of the fact that she would find it difficult to prove that Lilly manufactured the DES ingested by her mother and presumed awareness of her late father’s heavy history of adenocarcinoma.

Lilly, DES and the law, American Family Physician. 1981 Jul; 23(7):89-90,, 1981.

What was most astounding was the court’s decision to render a $500,000 verdict, against Lilly, when there “was no proof of any connection between the plaintiff’s mother and Eli Lilly.” The court justified its verdict by claiming that Lilly had acted in concert with “the other drug companies“. No evidence was introduced to show that any 2 of the firms which manufactured DES ever acted together with respect to the manufacture and distribution of DES for treatment of certain accidents of pregnancy. What happened was that the jury felt sorry for the plaintiff and, unable to blame any individual or manufacturing firm, levied a $500,000 verdict against Lilly and Company. It’s not possible to review this case without concluding that Lilly did no harm to the plaintiff and that the court reached well beyond the realm of reason in finding Lilly guilty and awarding the plaintiff $500,000.

Too bad this opinion paper is not signed…

More DES DiEthylStilbestrol Resources

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