Skip to Content

Court Divided Over Vaccine Lawsuits

From UPI Top Stories (October 12, 2010)

The U.S. Supreme Court heard argument Tuesday on whether a federal law bars suits filed over a vaccine’s side effects.

The case involved a Pennsylvania girl who was left disabled after a combined immunization when she was an infant, reported.

The high court justices appeared divided over the case Tuesday, CNN said.

The lower federal courts threw out the family’s suit against drug maker Wyeth Inc., saying it was barred by the federal law. The National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 says, "No vaccine manufacturer shall be liable in a civil action for damages arising from a vaccine-related injury or death associated with the administration of a vaccine after Oct. 1, 1988, if the injury or death resulted from side effects that were unavoidable even though the vaccine was properly prepared and was accompanied by proper directions and warnings."

At issue is what "unavoidable" means. The parents contend that means manufacturers are immune from civil liability only for side effects that "could not have been prevented," reported. Wyeth contends that means the statute pre-empts all but state-law claims arising from manufacturing defects and a failure to warn.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said Congress "could have said simply that no vaccine manufacturer may be held civilly liable if the vaccine is properly prepared and accompanied by proper directions and adequate warnings. That would have been the simplest statement."

But "Congress didn’t make that statement," she added. "They were asked to amend the statute to make that statement, and they didn’t. I mean, if you wanted to make it clear that there is no design defect liability, then say that: No civil liability unless inadequately -- improperly prepared, improper directions, or warnings. ... (T)he language that they used is certainly, to say the least, confusing."

The court should hand down a decision in the next few months.


Posted: October 2010