Thursday, October 14, 2010

Federal Vaccine Case

The Supreme Court has not made a decision in a vaccine injury case that could spark so many lawsuits it would be impossible for vaccine makers to continue supplies. Will that dilemma force judges to make a decision they don't really want to? This is a very interesting case.


In 1986, Congress created a special no-fault compensation system for injuries that result from vaccines. The payments are awarded by a special vaccine court. The question presented by Tuesday's case is whether that court is the end of the line for most claims, or whether Congress intended to give victims an additional chance to prove their case and win damages in state court.

These kinds of cases have been brought against vaccine manufacturers for 100 years. The Vaccine Act of 1986 was not intended to displace those claims. And so we're talking about the very rare situation where an existing safer alternative existed, and it caused a harm that could have been avoided.

The case was brought by the parents of Hannah Bruesewitz. She was a healthy 6-month-old baby when she received a vaccination against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. Within hours, she suffered scores of seizures and has been developmentally impaired ever since. Her parents claimed her injuries were caused by the vaccine, which was developed in the 1940s, and that the manufacturer, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, had declined to substitute another, safer and more modern, vaccine. When the special vaccine court ruled that there was inadequate proof the vaccine caused Hannah's injuries, her parents then sued in state court, where they would have the right to subpoena drug company records to learn what the drug company knew about the vaccine's safety. The lower courts, however, threw the case out, declaring that the federal vaccine law barred all suits over design defects.

-NewsAnchorMom Jen

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