Internationally renowned for his work on numerous landmark cases, Peter Gordon conducted the first successful asbestos related cancer claim in Australia in 1984. Peter was a lawyer at Slater & Gordon for 30 years. He became a partner of the firm in 1989 and senior partner in 1995. In 2009 he resigned as a non-executive director of Slater & Gordon. Peter wanted to retire and focus on getting physically fit but a particular case drew him back.
Shortly after Peter retired his contractor, a Thalidomider, mentioned that although he was doing fine many Aussie Thalidomiders, compensated in 1970, were in desperate needs, having to rely on welfare and dealing with aging bodies. His contractor put him in touch with Ken Youdale who had got a power of attorney to negotiate on behalf of all the Thalidomiders in Australia. Skeptical at first, Peter agreed to look into it for his contractor friend and soon he met with Youdale. The two formed a bond even though they were completely different personalities –Youdale refined and establishment society type while Peter was the guy fighting for the underdog all his life. Youdale too was fighting for a just cause because his Thalidomider daughter had died a few years earlier. Peter hung his lawyer’s shingle up again as Gordon Legal to take up the fight for Aussie Thalidomiders pro bono.
Peter recruited Michael Magazanik from Slater & Gordon knowing his journalistic background and their friendship as a result of working on asbestos class action would be an asset. But first they would need a test case. They chose Lynette Rowe precisely because her case was the most difficult. They couldn’t absolutely prove that Wendy Rowe did take the drug with a 50 year-old drug bottle someplace in the medicine cabinet nor did they have a clear doctor’s medical records indicating Wendy had taken the drug. But they had clear medical evidence that disabilities were consistent with injuries to other Thalidomiders. While visiting the Rowe’s home for consultations Peter discovered that the family’s house was in need of major repairs (he could see the ground through the floor boards). Not sure if they would win the case, seeing the family financial hardships and knowing the family had years of court proceedings to endure, he felt he needed to do something for this wonderful family so that if they lost they would not walk away with nothing. They would at least have a proper home for Lyn and the family. He got his contractor friend and others to tear down the old house and build and furnish the Rowes a brand new wheel chair accessible house right on the same land so that they would be able stay in their neighbourhood.
In 2012, Peter Gordon’s law firm Gordon Legal won a landmark case in favor of Lynette Rowe. The outcome was a multi-million dollar class action settlement for all Australian and New Zealand Thalidomiders from Diageo who had bought Distillers, Thalidomide’s original distributor in Australia.
“Thalidomide has been the most satisfying, challenging and intellectually stimulating litigation of my life,” reflects Peter.
Peter lives in Melbourne with his wife and two daughters and is a devoted Aussie Rules football fan.