Feb 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.