In a test case ruling, three Court of Appeal judges decided that 13 out of 16 representative claimants were barred from seeking damages against Eli Lilly, the pharmaceuticals company, because their actions were launched too late.
The claimants, mostly elderly arthritis sufferers, allege they suffered long-term or even permanent side effects as a result of taking Opren, which was withdrawn world-wide in the summer of 1982.
Its side effects included persistent photosensitivity - a severe and often painful reaction of the skin to sunlight.
The claimants involved in yesterday's ruling were representative of hundreds - all of whom launched their actions too late to share in a pounds 2.2m out-of-court settlement paid to 1,200 people by Eli Lilly in 1987.
Lord Justice Purchas, sitting with Lord Justice Ralph Gibson and Lord Justice Mann, dismissed appeals by 13 claimants against rulings by Mr Justice Hidden in January 1991 and March 1992 that their claims were 'statute barred' under the 1980 Limitation Act.
People wishing to sue for damages for personal injuries have three years in which to start an action, running from the time when they can first be said to have sufficient knowledge of their injury.
The Court of Appeal judges ruled that three of the 16 claimants should be given the go-ahead to pursue their damages claims.