Unsuccessful Litigant Still Wins Fees Under Vaccine Injury Act

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In Sebelius v. Cloer, the United States Supreme Court decided a closely watched attorney fee case arising under the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 (“the Act”). That Act established a no-fault compensation system to speed compensation to any injured parties.

In Sebelius, the Court concluded that so long as the claimant’s petition was filed in “good faith and with a reasonable basis,” attorney fees were proper, even to a losing party. The Plaintiff received a hepatitis immunization. Shortly thereafter, the Plaintiff began to experience symptoms that ultimately led to multiple sclerosis (“MS”). Subsequently, the Plaintiff alleged a link between her MS diagnosis and the vaccine.

The Plaintiff then filed a claim for compensation under the Act. The Act requires claims to be adjudicated before a Special Master. 

After hearing the matter, the Special Master concluded that the Plaintiff’s filing was untimely as the claim was filed after the three year period set forth in the Act. The Federal Circuit agreed with the Special Master that the claim was not timely. Nonetheless, the Plaintiff sought attorney fees, and the Federal Circuit ultimately found she was entitled to recover reasonable fees.

On appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed the fee award. The Court noted that a court may award attorney fees and costs incurred by a claimant in any proceeding brought under the Act, even for an unsuccessful petition. A fee award is proper so long as the petition was brought in “good faith” and there was a “reasonable basis” for the claim. On that basis, the Court affirmed the grant of fees to the claimant.