Vaccine Lawsuit Goes to Supreme Court

Earlier this year, we wrote that following some lower-court rulings, the US Supreme Court is scheduled to be hearing a case in Pennsylvania over a lawsuit concerning alleged <"">adverse health reactions following vaccinations. Now, says My Health News Daily, the High Court will hear its first arguments today in a vaccine injury case that could change how vaccine makers are sued in the US.

The law mandates that families seeking to sue for injuries allegedly connected with vaccinations must go through a so-called Vaccine Court, said My Health News Daily. The Vaccine Court—known officially as the Office of Special Masters—was created by the 1986 National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act (NCBIA) and “established within the US Court of Federal Claims, said My Health News Daily.

The family is seeking to sue outside of Vaccine Court on the grounds that the vaccine design was defective, which allegedly led to their daughter, Hannah Bruesewitz (6) being diagnosed with a “seizure disorder, developmental problems, and encephalopathy,” said My Health News Daily. Russel and Robalee Buesewitz, Hannah’s parents stated, that Hannah was six months old when she received her third dose of the DTP (whooping cough-tetanus-diphtheria) vaccination and was soon after diagnosed, said the Cornell University Law School, according to My Health News Daily.

The Bruesewitz family is not the only family seeking to sue external to Vaccine Court; however, theirs is the case that could change how hundreds of lawsuits will be handled, said My Health News Daily. About 5,000 claims are pending under the federal compensation process and claim links between childhood vaccines and neurological damage, including autism.

Vaccine Court ruled the DTP vaccine did not cause Hannah’s illnesses, which led to the Bruesewitz family bringing a civil case against Wyeth, the vaccine-maker, said My Health News Daily. Wyeth argued that Hannah’s parents did not have rights to sue outside of the special court; the 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals judged in the drug maker’s favor, noted Health News Daily. Pfizer Inc. purchased Wyeth in 2009.

The Georgia Supreme Court ruled that federal law does allow for “design defect claims” against US vaccine manufacturers; however, the Philadelphia appeals court ruled that Congress prohibited these lawsuits as a measure to protect industry, explained Reuters previously. According to the Obama administration, the federal law prevents design defect lawsuits in state court, but because of the conflicting rulings, it was appropriate for the Supreme Court to become involved, added Reuters.

In the early 1980s, the many vaccine injury cases with huge settlements caused some vaccine makers to go out of business with only one DTP maker in business, said My Health news Daily; that maker threatened to stop making the vaccine. Because of this, Congress created the NCVIA and the Vaccine Court, which does not have a jury, does render no-fault decisions, and does mandates fewer requirements to prove injury versus civil court, explained My Health News Daily. The court looks at the official Vaccine Injury Table “of known side effects from medical literature” to determine if an injury was caused by a vaccine; the Court is able to add or delete complications from the Table based on research, said My Health News Daily.

When Hannah appeared in vaccine court, the complications she experienced had been removed from the Table; however, “When it [DTP] went out in 1982, there was a one-hour documentary that made that [the Bruesewitz’] claim,” said Dr. Paul Offit, chief of Infectious Diseases at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, quoted My Health News Daily. “It scared a lot of people, including doctors,” he added.

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