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Vaccine Safety Case Reaches the United States Supreme Court

Vaccination injuries and their legal consequences have long been a complicated and debated area of the law. While millions of lives have been saved by the development of vaccinations over the years, the undeniable truth is that many children suffer lifelong injuries after receiving them. The possible range of childhood injuries continues to grow, as a spate of lawsuits has recently been filed that suggest that a link exists between vaccines and autism. As reported in the New York Times, The Supreme Court heard oral arguments this week in a new case that may ultimately have consequences for all vaccine injury challenges in the future.

The main issue in the upcoming case involves the specific meaning of a 25 year old Congressional law and the legislation’s effect on product liability suits against vaccine manufacturers. The 1986 National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act attempted to balance the need to compensate those injured by vaccinations while encouraging manufacturers to continue developing safer products. In essence, the law offers clear legal advantages for victims to use an alternative legal process, known as “vaccine court,” to adjudicate their claims.

The problem is that the vaccine court is increasingly seen as unfairly denying many valid claims from injured children and their families. In most cases, the court will deny any claims that allege injuries that do not fall within a rigid table of possible vaccine injuries-autism, for example, is not on the list. Even worse (and at the heart of this case) is the argument that the 1986 Act which created the court also bars those denied families the chance to sue vaccine manufacturers in regular civil court for their conduct.

For example, the parents of one family filed a claim with the vaccine court after their daughter suffered severe problems upon getting a DTP vaccine to guard against diphtheria, pertussis, and tetnus. Their daughter experienced seizures mere hours after receiving the immunization. She is now a teenager, is non-verbal, continues to suffer from seizures, and requires around the clock care. However, their claim was rejected by the vaccine court, because it did not fall into the rigid definitional categories adjudicated by the body.

As an alternative, the family filed a regular state law claim alleging “design defects” in the manufacturing of the vaccine. Specifically, they claim that the company which made the vaccine given to their daughter knew that there was a safer product than the version of DTP that was administered and yet did nothing to produce the safer version. Challengers to the family’s claim, however, believe that the family does not even possess the right to pursue the lawsuit, because that right was taken from them by the 1986 Law that created the vaccine court.

That is exactly the disagreement that the Supreme Court will settle with the upcoming case. The high court heard oral arguments on the issue earlier in the week and will issue a ruling sometime in the next several months.

The particular legal question presented by the specific case involves a variety of nuances including statute interpretation, potential conflict of laws, and public policy considerations. But our Chicago medical malpractice attorneys at Levin & Perconti continually share our belief in the importance of fair and equal access to the court system for all potential victims. We have unwaveringly advocated for allowing the courtroom process of judge and jury to hear all disputes, make a ruling, and provide remedy when necessary. Our medical injury lawyers oppose all measures that seek to take that right away, whether it is arbitrary damage caps or statutory interpretations that give large manufacturers blanket immunity.