February 2011 Archives

February 22, 2011

Vaccine Makers Immunized Against Many Suits, Top Court Says

Vaccine makers are shielded from certain kinds of personal injury lawsuits because of a 1986 law that set up a no-fault compensation system for injuries linked to childhood vaccines, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today.

Today's 6-2 decision (Bruesewitz v. Wyeth LLC) came about after a Pennsylvania family tried to step outside the confines of the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program after their claim was rejected under that process. The Bruesewitz family sued drug maker Wyeth in state court, alleging that their daughter had become disabled after receiving a diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTP) vaccine manufactured by a company now owned by Wyeth.

The Supreme Court upheld two lower federal court decisions in ruling that the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 insulates vaccine manufacturers from any kind of personal injury lawsuit alleging a design defect -- meaning all lawsuits that seek compensation for harm from a vaccine's side effects based on a theory that the vaccine could have been make safer.

The 1986 law, which set up the no-fault National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, was enacted for two key reasons. First, expensive lawsuits over injuries from childhood vaccines were acting as a deterrent that kept many companies from working to develop new vaccines, even when those vaccines could provide a clear benefit to kids and to society in general. Second, families and kids who had been injured by childhood vaccines spent large amounts of money and time trying to get compensation through increasingly complex court cases. The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program eliminates manufacturer liability for a vaccine's unavoidable, adverse side effects. Awards are paid out of a fund created by an excise tax on each vaccine dose.

Read the full text of today's decision in Nolo's Supreme Court Center: Bruesewitz v. Wyeth LLC. And to learn more about the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program and how the claim process works, check out Nolo's article Vaccine Injuries: The Federal Compensation Program.

February 10, 2011

Drywall and Deaths Not Linked, CPSC Says

Two recent federal investigations have turned up no evidence that drywall found in homes is to blame for a number of deaths in Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Virginia.

Today, federal product safety officials announced that an investigation looking into a potential link between drywall in homes at Fort Bragg and the deaths of at least three infants has turned up no such connection. The infants were said to have either lived in or visited two homes containing suspected problem drywall over a period beginning in 2007, on the base at Fort Bragg, which is a U.S. Army post in Fayetteville, North Carolina. But rounds of testing revealed that drywall in the homes was not "problem drywall" of the kind that has made headlines in recent years, and no drywall-related environmental factors could be linked to the babies' deaths, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Read the CPSC news release here and see the full report on the Fort Bragg investigation here (PDF file).

ABC11-WTVD in Raleigh-Durham reports on the case here (including an assertion that the investigation looked into as many as 11 infant deaths), and the station has also posted a PDF file collecting 263 pages of documents related to the investigation.

In January, CPSC released a report summarizing a separate investigation into the deaths of 11 adults (five in Florida, five in Louisiana, and one in Virginia) ranging in age from 59 to 86. That review -- which involved work by CPSC, CDC and a number of state health agencies -- concluded that "exposure to imported drywall was not believed to be a contributing factor" in the death of the 11 adults, all of whom "had one or more severe health conditions that were unrelated to imported drywall," including cancer and cardiac problems. You can read a PDF version of that report here.