Supreme Court Sides with Vaccine Manufacturers in Bruesewitz v. Wyeth LLC

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The Supreme Court, voting 6-2, ruled on Tuesday that the National Childhood Vaccine Act of 1986 (NCVIA or Act) bars state-law product liability claims against vaccine manufacturers. [See Bruesewitz v. Wyeth LLC, FKA Wyeth, Inc. .pdf]. The Act, designed to ensure a stable vaccine supply by limiting vaccine manufacturers’ potential tort liability, created a special, company-financed, no-fault system that offers guaranteed payments to patients for injuries shown to be caused by a vaccine. The federal program has awarded more than $1.8 billion for vaccine injury claims in nearly 2,500 cases since 1989.

Design Defect Claims are Preempted under the Act

Writing for the majority, Justice Scalia noted that Congress intended to bar lawsuits against vaccine manufacturers based on so-called design defects. “Vaccine manufacturers fund from their sales an informal, efficient compensation program for vaccine injuries; in exchange they avoid costly tort litigation and the occasional disproportionate jury verdict. Congress enacted this deal to coax manufacturers back into the vaccine market.”

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