Supreme Court Sides With Vaccine Manufacturers; State-Law Design Defect Claims Preempted


The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 6-2 decision, ruled that the National Childhood Vaccine Act of 1986 (NCVIA) preempts state-law design defect claims against vaccine manufacturers. [See Bruesewitz v. Wyeth LLC, FKA Wyeth, Inc.] The NCVIA, designed to ensure a stable vaccine supply, establishes a special, company-financed, no-fault system that guarantees payments to patients for injuries caused by a vaccine, but, in exchange, provides significant tort liability protection to the vaccine manufacturer. In considering the NCVIA's preemptive effect, Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, found that the NCVIA itself "suggests that the design of the vaccine is a given, not subject to question in [a] tort action" and, therefore, Congress must have intended to bar lawsuits against vaccine manufacturers based on so-called design defects.

Bruesewitz v. Wyeth LLC, FKA Wyeth, Inc.

In Bruesewitz, the plaintiff, Hannah Bruesewitz, alleged that she suffered seizures and developmental delay as a result of the injection of a diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DPT) vaccine when she was only 6 months old. After her claim filed under the federal compensation system was rejected, Hannah's parents filed suit against the vaccine manufacturer in state court alleging their daughter's injuries were caused by toxins in the vaccine – and that a safer alternative had been available but was not used.

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