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Vaccine injury compensation: what a new (lawyer) dad learned about the law

My wife just gave birth to our first child about five months ago. Like many first-time parents, there are many things that I never previously cared about – or even thought about – which are suddenly extremely important to me. Until my daughter was born, I never paid much attention to the debate regarding vaccines, despite all the media attention this topic has garnered. Now, I’m not about to go on a rant about how all vaccines are bad, or about the fact that some people still allege that there’s a link between vaccines and autism. That’s not the point of this article. My goal is simply to share some surprising information that I was previously unaware of, and that I bet you don’t know either.

When it was time for my daughter to start receiving vaccinations, my inattentiveness turned into avid curiosity, and I delved into researching the issues of the debate. As lawyers are wont to do, I looked into what was happening on the legal side of the issue, not just the scientific data. Along the way, I learned that in 1986 the U.S. Congress passed the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act (NCVIA), which essentially provides pharmaceutical companies that manufacture vaccines with total legal immunity from being sued due to injuries and deaths resulting from vaccines.

That’s right. It is literally almost impossible to sue a vaccine manufacturer for injuries from a vaccination.

Why would our U.S. senators and representatives pass such a law? They did so because throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s the number of lawsuits brought against vaccine manufacturers for injuries from vaccinations, particularly from the Diphtheria Pertussis and Tetanus (DPT) vaccine, increased dramatically. Many of these lawsuits resulted in multi-million dollar jury verdicts against the manufacturers. In this environment of increasing litigation, mounting legal fees, and large jury awards, many pharmaceutical companies left the vaccine business. In fact, by the end of 1984, only one U.S. company still manufactured the DPT vaccine, and other vaccines were losing manufacturers as well.

In response to this, the pharmaceutical industry pressed Congress for relief, saying that if they were not granted legal immunity against liability from vaccine injuries, they would stop manufacturing vaccines. As a result, the NCVIA was passed, which enables pharmaceutical companies to create as many new vaccines as they desire with no risk of being sued if their product causes injury or death.

The NCVIA also contained provisions for a program that would compensate individuals harmed by certain vaccines, and in 1988 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services established the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP), which is often referred to as “vaccine court.” This program enables individuals who believe they have suffered injuries from a vaccination to file a claim with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, in an attempt to obtain compensation for their injuries.

The NVICP also established a vaccine trust fund which is funded by a tax on each dose of vaccine sold and administered. This trust fund currently contains approximately $3 billion, and this money is used to pay compensation to injured individuals who satisfy the program’s qualification requirements. Since its inception, the NVICP has awarded billions of dollars in thousands of separate vaccine injury claims.

I’m not advocating for or against vaccines, and that’s not my intent in writing this post. I am a personal injury lawyer and was unaware of the NVICP before researching the laws associated with vaccines; it seems likely that the American public is largely unaware of it as well, and I wanted to share the information. If you believe that you or a loved one suffered an injury due to a vaccine, give me a call, and I can help you determine whether you are eligible to file a claim with the NVICP.