As a result of Grünenthal’s negligence, tens of thousands of babies were stillborn worldwide and at least 10,000 babies were born with severe malformations. About 5000 survived.
In Germany Thalidomide was finally withdrawn from sale in November 1961. (In some countries it took another several months before it was completely removed.) In 1967 the Aachen prosecution laid charges against owner Hermann Wirtz and Thalidomide inventor Heinrich Mückter, as well as seven other Grünenthal senior employees. The trial lasted several years and resulted in a finding of “minor guilt” by the trial judge. The court case was concluded before all the evidence was presented, as a result of a ‘deal’ reached by the justice department and Grünenthal. No one served any jail time. Grünenthal however agreed to a controversial settlement payment of a 100 million D-Mark (about $30 million CDN at the time). Today Thalidomide survivors and their supporters say the payment wasn’t nearly enough and contained a clause that prevents them from ever suing the company again.
Grünenthal quickly recovered from the bad publicity and today remains a hugely successful business. It is still largely in the hands of the Wirtz family, with an estimated fortune of approximately 2.5 billion Euros. The family regularly makes the list of the “50 wealthiest Germans”.