Court limits vaccine injury lawsuits

Feb. 22, 2011 at 11:41 AM
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 22 (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday ruled 6-2 that vaccine manufacturers are protected from suits claiming death or injury brought about by side effects.

The 1986 National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act created a no-fault compensation program "to stabilize a vaccine market adversely affected" by an increase in lawsuits. The act allows a plaintiff to file a petition for compensation in the Court of Federal Claims.

Successful claimants get compensation for medical, rehabilitation, counseling, special education and vocational training expenses; diminished earning capacity; pain and suffering and $250,000 for vaccine-related deaths.

The case before the court involves a DTP vaccine manufactured by Lederle Laboratories, purchased by Wyeth LLC in 1994.

Hannah Bruesewitz, born in October 1991, received a dose of the vaccine from her pediatrician, and within 24 hours started to experience seizures, more than 100 during the next month. She was eventually diagnosed with a developmental disorder.

Her parents filed with the Court of Federal Claims, but were unsuccessful. They then filed in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia. However, Wyeth successfully had the case brought back to the claims court, which ruled for the company. An appeals court affirmed the ruling.

Tuesday, the Supreme Court majority held that the federal law pre-empts "all design-defect claims against vaccine manufacturers brought by plaintiffs seeking compensation for injury or death caused by a vaccine's side effects."

Justice Elena Kagan, who until last year was the Obama administration's top courtroom lawyer, did not participate in the case. The administration had sided with Wyeth.

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