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Supreme Court Ruling Protects Vaccine Makers from Lawsuits

Print media widely covered the Supreme Court ruling in a case which sought to hold a drug maker liable for the side effects of a childhood vaccine. Most sources considered the Court’s decision a victory for vaccine makers.

The Los Angeles Times reported, “The Supreme Court on Tuesday shielded the nation’s vaccine makers from being sued by parents who say their children suffered severe side effects from the drugs.”

The AP reported, “By a 6-2 vote…the court ruled against the parents of a child who sued the drug maker Wyeth…in Pennsylvania state court for the health problems they say their daughter, now 19, suffered from a vaccine she received in infancy.”

USA Today reported that the ruling was rendered in a case brought by “the parents of a child who suffered seizures after a routine vaccination.” Notably, the “American Academy of Pediatrics, which along with the US government had urged the court to bar such lawsuits, said the decision will enhance the national immunization system and ensure ‘that vaccines will continue to prevent the spread of infectious diseases in this country.’” But, “lawyers who represent children who have suffered adverse effects, including the American Association for Justice and Public Citizen, said the ruling is a disincentive for manufacturers to put safer vaccines on the market.”

Similarly, Valerie Nannery of the Center for Constitutional Litigation “said the decision holds vaccine makers to a lesser standard for accountability,” the National Journal reported. Nannery went on to say, “We are disappointed because the tort system is there to hold pharmaceutical companies accountable for vaccine design. Now these companies don’t have to defend themselves in court for drug design.”

The Washington Post reported, “The majority said that Congress found such a system necessary to ensure that vaccines remain readily available, and that federal regulators are in the best position to decide whether vaccines are safe and properly designed.” In an opinion for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote, “The National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 ‘reflects a sensible choice to leave complex epidemiological judgments about vaccine design to the FDA and the National Vaccine Program rather than juries.’” But, “Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented, saying the threat of lawsuits provides an incentive for vaccine manufacturers to constantly monitor and improve their products.”

The Christian Science Monitor reported that the dissenting judges argued that “the high court was imposing ‘its own bare policy preference over the considered judgment of Congress,” and added, “The decision ‘leaves a regulatory vacuum in which no one ensures that vaccine manufacturers adequately take account of scientific and technological advancements when designing and distributing their products.’”

The Wall Street Journal reported Wyeth praised the ruling, noting that a flurry of vaccine suits would jeopardize childhood vaccine supplies. In a statement, Pfizer general counsel Amy Schulman said the vaccine law rightly assigns responsibility for the design of childhood vaccines to Federal agencies. Wyeth’s stance received support from the Obama Administration.

Bloomberg News reported, “The ruling is a victory for the four companies that supply vaccines for the US market — Wyeth, GlaxoSmithKline Plc, Merck & Co. and Sanofi-Aventis SA. A ruling letting the parents sue Wyeth might have allowed suits by thousands of families that say vaccines caused autism in their children.” Still, “since 1988, the no-fault process has led to almost $2 billion in compensation to more than 2,500 families.

From the American Association for Justice news release.

Bob Kraft

I am a Dallas, Texas lawyer who has had the privilege of helping thousands of clients since 1971 in the areas of Personal Injury law and Social Security Disability.

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The title of this blog reflects my attitude toward those government agencies and insurance companies that routinely mistreat injured or disabled people. As a Dallas, Texas lawyer, I've spent more than 45 years trying to help those poor folk, and I have been frustrated daily by the actions of the people on the other side of their claims. (Sorry if I offended you...)

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