By: Emily Tarsell
09 October 2010
Imagine how you would feel if you were in a serious accident caused by faulty breaks in your new car, but there was a law prohibiting you from suing the manufacturer for the defective car. Well there is a law which prohibits vaccine manufacturers from being sued for vaccine adverse events, and things could get worse as the US Supreme Court begins hearings this month regarding an important vaccine case. The case is Bruesewitz vs. Wyeth Laboratories and a lot is at stake.
What is it about?
In 1995, Russell and Robalee Bruesewitz had a healthy infant daughter, Hannah. But their little bundle of joy suffered a serious adverse reaction to a diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DPT) vaccine. Shortly after the injection, Hannah developed a devastating seizure disorder. Her family has had to provide for her life-long extraordinary care which has been emotionally and financially draining. Hannah’s family has been seeking compensation on the grounds that the DPT vaccine Hannah received was defectively designed. Wyeth Laboratories, the manufacturer, knew of a safer alternative. Had Wyeth used the safer alternative, Hannah’s injuries could have been avoided. The Bruesewitz family initially filed a claim for compensation in the vaccine court.
What is the “vaccine court”?
The vaccine court is the common name for the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program ( NVICP). This program was created in 1986 by an act of Congress. In the 1980’s several manufacturers threatened to discontinue making vaccines because of rising numbers of lawsuits. In response to the potential impact on American health and safety, Congress passed a law protecting manufacturers against lawsuits from adverse reactions to vaccines. Alternatively, to handle claims from victims of vaccine adverse reactions, Congress created the NVICP where a vaccine court functioned as a no-fault compensation alternative to civil litigation for vaccine related adverse reactions. (1)
The NVICP Act of 1986 stipulates that all vaccine injury or death claims must be filed in the vaccine court. However, the Act does allow an alternative next step for civil litigation against the manufacturer under certain conditions. If the plaintiff can prove a defective design caused the injury and that it could have been avoided, the plaintiff can file a lawsuit in civil court against the manufacturer. Or can they?
After filing a claim in the vaccine court, the Bruesewitz family exercised the alternative option of filing a lawsuit in civil court against the manufacturer, Wyeth Laboratories. They argued that Hannah’s injuries could have been avoided if Wyeth had chosen to use the safer vaccine design. However, the lower courts have ruled that the NVICP Act of 1986 preempts all vaccine design defect claims, even those in which the design defect was avoidable. After 14 years of appeals, the case will be heard in the US Supreme Court beginning October 12, 2010.
Why is this case important?
The question before the Supreme Court will be whether or not the Act of 1986 preempts all vaccine design defect claims against the manufacturer. If the Supreme Court upholds the lower court decision, it means that vaccine manufacturers would have full immunity from litigation regardless of the circumstances. Think about that.
1. Pharmaceutical companies would never be held accountable for vaccine injuries or deaths even if the adverse reactions were a direct result of a defective design that was avoidable.
2. Victims of unsafe vaccines would never be able to seek justice or hold the manufacturer responsible for their actions under any circumstances.
3. The motivation for vaccine manufacturers to ensure vaccine safety would be further compromised.
4. Public trust in vaccine safety would be further impacted.
What can you do to protect citizen’s rights?
Write a letter asking that the US Supreme Court reverse the Third Circuit’s decision that preempts all vaccine design defect claims against the manufacturer. The original intent of the NVIC Program and vaccine court was to provide an alternative to the civil court system, but it did not close the door to tort litigation against the manufacturer. It is very important for reasons stated above, to keep civil litigation as an option. Address your letter to:
Chief Justice John G. Roberts
The Supreme Court of the US
One First Street, NE
Washington, DC 20543
Neal Katyal, Acting Soliciter General
Office of the Soliciter General
US Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530
More links and information on vaccine litigation can be found at