Australian lawyer and former journalist, Michael Magazanik, reported on political and legal matters for leading Australian news publications and television networks for many years before accepting a position at the Melbourne law firm, Slater & Gordon. It is at Slater & Gordon that Michael became involved in commercial litigation. Michael ran the firm’s asbestos litigation practice and led the first successful asbestosis court case. Backed by his employers, Michael joined forces with Peter Gordon from Gordon Legal to fight for proper compensation for Australian Thalidomiders. Peter himself had taken early retirement from Slater & Gordon not long before but decided, through his new law firm, to take on this fight pro-bono.
It was not an easy task since Thalidomide’s birth deformities scandal was at least 50 years old and there was the statute of limitations to contend with. As well there was the issue of how to prove that the mothers did take Thalidomide and biological links for Thalidomiders who could not provide a direct link after all those years. Magazanik and Gordon chose Lynette Rowe as the test case in their class action lawsuit precisely because she was the most difficult case to prove.
Magazanik and Gordon needed proof that was locked up in Germany as a result of the 1968 Grünenthal trail. For months Michael buried himself in several German archives and learned that the trial records’ were finally open since the limitation had run out. He also dug deeper into the extensive records at the Sunday London Times and came up with the ‘smoking gun’ that Grünenthal executives and owners did know or certainly should have known about the deformities to babies. His affidavit of the German Court proceeding and other documents was the tipping point for Diageo (the company that bought Distillers the Thalidomide distributor in Australia). Diageo settled out of court for multi-million dollar award for Lynnette Rowe and all the other Australian and New Zealander survivors. But true to form the drug’s manufacturer, Grünenthal, successfully pleaded that their case needed to move to Germany, which was not feasible for Lynette Rowe. Ian and Wendy Rowe are both pensioners and can now rest assured their daughter will be looked after when they’re gone.
The successful Australian class action suit has served as an encouragement for Thalidomiders around the world to seek compensation from the distributors, Grünenthal and their own governments that allowed the worst drug scandal in history to take place. The fight still continues, now more urgent, because the Thalidomiders are getting older.
Michael, outraged by the treatment the Thalidomiders received, recently published his first book ‘Silent Shock: The Men Behind the Thalidomide Scandal and an Australian Family’s Long Road to Justice’. The book tells the story of Lynette Rowe and her family, and the impact of Thalidomide on their lives. A review from the Law Society Journal, ‘A frightening account of secrets in the pharmaceutical industry and the inspiring story of a family and their legal team that just wouldn’t give up.’
Michael lives in St. Kilda, a suburb of Melbourne, with his young family. He continues to practice law, now as a partner at Rightside Legal.