In the 1980's, several manufacturers threatened to discontinue manufacturing vaccines because of rising numbers of lawsuits. In response to the potential impact on American health and safety, Congress passed a law in 1986 stating that victims of vaccine adverse reactions cannot sue the pharmaceutical company. Alternatively, Congress established the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP) where a vaccine court functions as a no-fault compensation alternative to civil litigation for vaccine related adverse events.
The NVICP Act of 1986 stipulates that all vaccine injury or death claims must be filed in the vaccine court. However, it was assumed that the Act allowed an alternative next step for civil litigation against the manufacturer under certain circumstances. It was assumed that the plaintiff could file a lawsuit in civil court if the plaintiff could prove the adverse effects were the result of a defectively designed vaccine. This option for a plantiff to file a lawsuit in civil court was contested however. The landmark case of Bruesewitz vs Wyeth, Inc. was heard before the US Supreme Court in the Fall of 2010. The Supreme Court ruled to protect all vaccine manufacturers against litigation for vaccine related adverse events even if the damages resulted from a defectively designed vaccine.This important case is briefly discussed in the blue area below.
The NVICP is funded by a 75 cent tax on each vaccination given toward a "no fault" system that might compensate the injured while protecting the manufacturer and providers from lawsuits.
If a victim died, the victim's family must file a claim within two years following the victim's death and four years after the first symptoms appear. Compensation for a vaccine-related death is limited to $250,000 plus attorney's fees and costs. This limited compensation for the loss of a life has not changed in over twenty years.
Claims must be made to the NVICP within three years of the onset of symptoms for a victim who sustained an injury. There is no upper limit on the amount of the award for vaccine-related injuries.
More information and a list of vaccine court attorneys is available at:
A very important case, Bruesewitz v. Wyeth, Inc., was heard in the Fall of 2010 by the United States Supreme Court. This case appealed a lower court decision that upheld a manufacturer's immunity from lawsuits for a defectively designed vaccine. The Court ruled on February 22, 2011 that "people injured by vaccines that they say were improperly designed must rely solely on a compensation system created by a 1986 law and may not sue vaccine manufacturers..." In a vigorous dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor accused the court majority of imposing “its own bare policy preference over the considered judgment of Congress” depriving “vaccine-injured children of a key remedy that Congress intended them to have." For a link to the New York Times article, click here.
The outcome of this case has important implications as to whether persons harmed by vaccines can seek justice. It also has an impact on whether manufacturers have incentive to produce safe vaccines and it will impact public trust in vaccine safety. Public rebuttal to the decision was presented at this press conference on March 3, 2011.