Vaccine Lawsuits Preempted by Federal Law: Supreme Court
The United States Supreme Court has rejected an appeal that argued drug manufacturers should be held accountable for personal injuries caused by defective vaccines they make.
The justices voted 6-2 this week that federal law preempts lawsuits against vaccine manufacturers, despite the pleas of the parents of a child who suffered seizures and was left with permanent mental disabilities after being given a Wyeth vaccine. Wyeth is now a subsidiary of Pfizer.
The original vaccine lawsuit was brought by Russell and Robalee Bruesewitz, whose daughter Hannah was six months old when she was injected with a Wyeth vaccine for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis in 1992. The lawsuit alleges that Hannah began suffering seizures shortly afterwards.
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A 1986 law known as the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act shields vaccine manufacturers from product liability lawsuits. It also set up a special vaccine court where plaintiffs with claims could be compensated through a tax on drug manufacturers if they could show that a defective vaccine caused their injuries.
That court has paid out nearly $2 billion to more than 2,500 families who brought vaccine injury claims. However, that court rejected the Bruesewitz’s claims, saying they could not prove their daughter’s seizures were caused by the Wyeth vaccine.
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito all ruled to reject efforts to expose vaccine manufacturers to liability. Justsices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented. Justice Elena Kagan did not participate in the case due to her former position as U.S. Solicitor General.
Opponents of vaccine manufacturer immunity say that the liability protection is a disincentive for drug makers to make safe vaccines. Sotomayor agreed, saying that the law means that there is no one making sure that vaccine manufacturers are using the latest scientific and technological advancements to make their vaccines safe.
Proponents of the immunity law, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, say that the decision safeguards the vaccine process by preventing thousands of lawsuits from driving manufacturers away from vaccine production.
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