Parents whose children are harmed or killed by allegedly defective vaccines can’t sue the manufacturers for damages in state court and must instead accept no-fault compensation from a national tribunal for vaccination injuries, a federal appeals court ruled.
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld dismissal of a suit by a Las Vegas couple whose baby son suffered seizures and died after an immunization shot, saying such suits were precluded by a 1986 federal law.
The law established a “vaccine court” where those who claimed injuries from vaccination must file their claims. If a hearing officer determined that the harm was consistent with the vaccine’s known side effects, the victim would be awarded compensation without having to prove that the manufacturer caused the harm or acted negligently.
Vaccine makers who comply with Food and Drug Administration requirements for product ingredients and labeling are protected by the law from additional damage claims by the victim, or by the heirs of a victim who died.
The law provided “easier and more certain compensation in exchange for limited remedies within the traditional (court) system,” said Judge Sidney Thomas in the 3-0 ruling.
He said Congress passed the law after hearing testimony that vaccines harmed a very small number of people, but the resulting lawsuits were “threatening the stability of the nation’s vaccination program.”
In this case, the child’s estate received $250,000, the maximum award for a vaccine-related death, but far less than the damages typically awarded to heirs in a wrongful-death suit. Lawyers for the parents argued that the law did not apply to them, because only the child or his estate – not his heirs – can file claims in the vaccine court, but the Ninth Circuit disagreed.
Robert Murdock, a lawyer for the parents, said the ruling unfairly denies compensation to parents for the grief they suffer at the loss of a child. He said his clients, Erin and Shawn Holmes, would ask the full appeals court for a rehearing and take their case to the Supreme Court if necessary.
Nine days after the Holmes’ 1-year-old son, Jacob, was given a vaccine, manufactured by Merck & Co., for measles, mumps and rubella, he started suffering seizures and brain disorders known as encephalopathies. He died six months later, in October 2002.
In their lawsuit, the parents claimed Merck had failed to warn families about the danger of encephalopathies.