RICHMOND, JUNE 18 -- A federal appeals court today upheld the effort made by A.H. Robins Co. to notify women worldwide that the deadline for filing Dalkon Shield claims was April 30, 1986.
The date was set in November 1985 and Robins undertook a media campaign that included news conferences around the globe.
But the Dalkon Shield Claimants Committee and other groups filed an appeal, saying the so-called "bar date" should either be extended or abolished for foreign claimants.
The committee maintained that the program was insufficient to notify users of the Dalkon Shield contraceptive outside of the United States of their legal rights.
But a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. "We find that the notification program was adequate under the circumstances," the court said in upholding the original decision by U.S. District Judge Robert Merhige to deny the extension.
Robins is reorganizing under Chapter 11 of the U.S. bankruptcy code. The company was driven into bankruptcy reorganization by thousands of suits filed by women claiming injury from the intrauterine contraceptive.
Among the committee's original objections were that a news conference was not held in Cairo and that there were concerns about background material that was distributed in the foreign notice program.
The court also said the committee "expressed general, unspecified concerns about the budget and scope of the foreign notice program."
A public relations agency hired for the job, Burson Marsteller, estimated that an international paid advertising campaign such as the one used in the United States could wind up costing as much as $50 million.
Robins decided instead to concentrate overseas on a public relations effort that the court said was successful enough that every daily news operation in the world is believed to have received information about the Dalkon Shield.
The groups appealing, however, argued that spreading information through press releases was not enough and, among other points, that the low response rate from some foreign countries shows the program was flawed. The appeals court, however, said it could not find any merit in those arguments.
"The fact that not all the potential claimants filed claims before the bar date, and the fact that the response rate was lower in foreign countries than it was in the United States, do not suggest the program itself was unreasonable," the court wrote.
"It appears to this court that the extensive notification program was a success," the appeals panel said. "Women from such unlikely locations as Kenya, Botswana, Pakistan and Bangladesh ultimately filed claims. While it may be argued that the program could be better instituted if it were reformulated, this fact does not render it unreasonable. Virtually anything, if repeated, can be improved upon."