Supreme Court Ponders Vaccine Lawsuit Case


Posted on 14th October 2010 by gjohnson in Uncategorized

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The U.S. Supreme Court earlier this week heard arguments on to what degree vaccine manufacturers should face liability lawsuits. 

The case being debated, Bruesewitz v. Wyeth, is attempting to test whether federal law protects vaccine makers from some kinds of product-liability lawsuits in state courts.

The test case involves a Pennsylvania family that claims it should be able to sue Pfizer ‘s Wyeth unit, claiming that the vaccine maker could have put a safer vaccine on the market but chose not to do so. The family claims that its daughter, Hannah Bruesewitz, wound up with a seizure disorder after being innoculated when she was six-months-old with DTP, a combination diptheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine made by Wyeth.

Hannah is a teenager now, and has severe developmental problems. She needs care for the rest of her life, her family claims.

During Tuesday’s arguments, some of the high court’s justices expressed concern that if more kinds of lawsuits are permitted against vaccine makers, that companies may opt to exit the vaccine market.

But other justices apparently didn’t quite buy the vaccine manufacturer’s arguments.  

The Bruesewitz family filed for compensation for their daughter through a vaccine program that is administered by the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, which rejected the claim. The family then sued in state court, and an appeals court last year found that such a suit wasn’t allowed under the National Childhod Vaccine Injury Act.

That 1986 law set up a compensation system for vaccine-injury claims, shielding drug makers from some suits. The law said that a drug manufacturer was not liable and could not be sued if an injury caused by a vaccine was the result of “unavoidable side effects.”

The $64,000 Question that the Supreme Court will have to decide is what did Congress mean by “unavoidable side effects.”