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Largest Lawsuit Award


Shane Stromsodt was born in Grand Forks in May 1959, and at four months, he was inoculated for diphtheria, whooping cough, polio and tetanus with a brand new antigen called Quadrigen, manufactured by Parke-Davis & Co. of Detroit.

Following a second dose of Quadrigen, a month later, Shane’s mom noticed he had a rash on his face by the time they reached the car. When she undressed him at home, she found the rest of his body was affected, as well. Mrs. Stromsodt gave her son a bottle, but he threw it back up – the first time that had ever happened. Then, the baby’s eyes rolled back, and he went into a full-body convulsion. Over the following days, he ran a high fever, slept an unusual amount, and suffered two more seizures.

Until the time of the second inoculation, Shane had developed normally, but after his second dose of Quadrigen, it slowly became clear the little boy had sustained severe brain damage. It turned out he was disabled both mentally and physically, and would require constant personal attention, and possibly institutional care, for the rest of his life.

Shane’s parents sued Parke-Davis for $750,000 when their son was seven years old. Shane couldn’t talk and he had difficulties with his motor skills. The family alleged Parke-Davis had ignored negative reports sent to them from doctors across the country. In fact, a doctor in California had reported a child went into convulsions shortly after injection of Quadrigen and died within twenty-four hours. Parke-Davis also knew of one batch of antigen that turned out to be “slightly more reactive.” But the company didn’t pull it. In fact, it told one doctor in Utah that if he ran into problems with his supply, he could just send it back for a free replacement.

The suit was tried before a jury in U.S. District Court in Fargo and was to become one of the most important cases Federal Judge Ronald Davies heard during his career. (You may recall Judge Davies was a central figure in forcing Little Rock schools to racially integrate in 1959.)

Among the lawyers representing the Stromsodts was Los Angeles attorney, Melvin Belli, the initial attorney in the trial of Jack Ruby, who killed Lee Harvey Oswald soon after he was arrested for assassinating President Kennedy.

During the two-week trial, attorneys for Parke-Davis questioned whether the Quadrigen used on Shane had been stored properly. The company had pulled Quadrigen from the market by the time Shane was two, but it claimed it wasn’t because the antigen was defective – it was just too expensive. They also contended the family’s request for $750,000 in damages was outrageously high.

The trial ended May 5, 1966, but Judge Davies was allowing a deposition from the Institute of Health to yet be entered into the transcript, and a judgement wouldn’t be reached until after more time for deliberation.

On this date in 1966, the verdict was reported in newspapers across the country. A Michigan paper reported, “Judge Davies said undue reaction had been found during the field testing of the drug, and it appeared that no effort had been made to check on the reaction.”

Davies ordered Parke-Davis to compensate the Stromsodts a half-million dollars, the largest judgement in North Dakota history. Mrs. Stromsodt said the money would be used to help Shane “as much as we can with his education. But no amount of money can ever replace him.”


Parke-Davis v. Stromsodt.


“Judge Ronald N. Davies Papers.” Elwyn B. Robinson Department of Special Collections. UND.


The Holland (MI) Evening Sentinel. 5 May 1966.

Great Bend (KS) Daily Tribune. 30 Sep 1966.

The Holland (MI) Evening Sentinel. 30 Sep 1966.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm