At issue is the underlying notion of preemption - in this case, whether a federal law known as the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 prevents the family of Hannah Bruesewitz to press their lawsuit, which was rejected by (the federal vaccine court) that is empowered to provide compensation. The Bruesewitz family then filed a lawsuit in state court before it was moved to federal court and, later, dismissed (see this).
The law says that a vaccine maker should not be held liable in a civil acdtion if an injury was caused by unavoidable side effects, "even if the vaccine was properly prepared and was accompanied by proper directions and warnings." In other words, the provision bars lawsuits in state courts but with an exception - claims except those alleging a manufacturing defect or a failure to warn. And that is what the family is citing as it proceeds to the US Supreme Court.
In their brief, the family argues that allowing design-defect claims for "preventable harms" would provide incentive for vaccine makers to conduct adequate research, design their vaccines as safely as possible, and incorporate scientific advances into vaccine design to protect the public from unnecessary harm." They also maintain that lawsuits can promote FDA because they help to disclose side effect info the agency does not require as part of the regulatory approval process." And they add that, if the Supreme Court lets the previous decision stand, "injured children would be denied redress even for injuries caused by recklessly designed vaccines or vaccines that a manufacturer knew would cause unnecessary harm. No sound policy justifies such a result."
The opposing brief from Wyeth, which is now owned by Pfizer argues the law has succeeded by providing incentives and compensation, and that overturning the apple cart will overwhelm vaccine makers with litigation that will stymie further research. "Over twenty new childhood vaccines have been brought to market since the effective date of the Act; adverse events are promptly reported to the government under the VAERS system (adverse events reporting); and over $1.8 billion in compensation has been awarded to petitioners by Vaccine Court. Thus, no policy consideration supports restricting the scope of the preemption provision that Congress enacted in 1986." (You can read all of the supporting briefs from other groups here, thanks to the ABA).
In an interview with a Pittsburgh television station the other day (you can watch the video here), Hannah's mom strikes a populist chord: "It's now an opportunity for us to come out and say that vaccine manufacturers need to be more responsible," says Robie Bruesewitz. "Wyeth Labs needs to be held accountable for what happened to my daughter." But what do you think? This is an important matter. Please vote and then tell us what you think.
Should The Supreme Court Allow The Bruesewitz Lawsuit To Proceed?
- No (60%, 69 Votes)
- Yes (40%, 46 Votes)
Total Voters: 115
pix appears from WTAE