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Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Supreme Court hears arguments on vaccine lawsuits
Jaclyn Belczyk at 2:52 PM ET
[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF; merit briefs] Tuesday in Bruesewitz v. Wyeth [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report] on compensation for injuries caused by childhood vaccines. The question is whether § 22(b)(1) [text] of the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986, which expressly preempts certain design defect claims against vaccine manufacturers "if the injury or death resulted from side effects that were unavoidable even though the vaccine was properly prepared and was accompanied by proper directions and warnings," preempts all vaccine design defect claims. The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held [opinion, PDF] that the act preempts all design defect claims. Counsel for the petitioners argued that the Third Circuit's holding was in error for three reasons:
First, the court overlooked the numerous provisions of the Act protecting manufacturers from liability, but it did not expressly preempt design defect claims. Second, the court misconstrued the word "unavoidable" in section 22(b)(1)'s Federal law defense. And third, the court adopted a policy that exposes children to unnecessary safety risks.
Counsel for the respondents argued that Congress intended to preempt all design defect claims. Counsel for the US government argued on behalf of respondents as amicus curiae.