Supreme Court Decision Protects Vaccine Makers From Lawsuits

On Tuesday, the US Supreme Court issued a decision that takes a ‘key legal tool out of the hands of those who contend their children’s autism was caused by vaccines,’ as the Wall Street Journal says. By a vote of 6-2, the Supreme Court ruled that vaccine manufacturers are shielded under US law from product-liability suits that allege defects in the design of a vaccine. 


Along with last year’s retraction of the 1998 Lancet study in which Dr. Andrew Wakefield claimed a link between the MMR vaccine and autism, the Supreme Court’s ruling strikes another blow to the idea that vaccines or something in vaccines can be linked to autism. Thousands of parents of autistic childrenhave filed lawsuits claiming damages for such a link. Those who contend that they or their children were injured by vaccines that were improperly designed must now seek compensation only through the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986

The case the Court considered was that of Bruesewitz v. Wyeth, No. 09-152, and was brought by the parents of Hannah Bruesewitz. In 1992, she received the D.T.P. (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccine)while an infant. Afterwards, she suffered seizures and had developmental problems. Her parents filed for a petition under the National Vaccine Injury Program but lost their suit, because, it was ruled, they had not provided enough proof that Hannah’s impairments had been caused by the vaccine. The Bruesewitzes then sued in state court in Pennsylvania; this case was moved to the federal courts, according to whom their claims were ‘pre-empted’ by the 1986 law.

The New York Times quotes Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, and Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who wrote in dissent. Justice Elena Kagan recused herself because she had worked on the case while she was United States solicitor general:

Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, said Congress had meant to establish a societal bargain in the 1986 law. “The vaccine manufacturers fund from their sales an informal, efficient compensation program for vaccine injuries,” he wrote. “In exchange they avoid costly tort litigation and the occasional disproportionate jury verdict.” 

In a vigorous dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor accused the court majority of imposing “its own bare policy preference over the considered judgment of Congress” depriving “vaccine-injured children of a key remedy that Congress intended them to have.”

The case turned on how one provision of the law was interpreted. This provision does not allow for ordinary lawsuits ‘“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 warning”‘—some side effects, that is, cannot be outruled, even though the vaccine was made properly. While noting that the language of this provision could have been written ”more tersely,”‘ Justice Scalia said that the ‘meaning of the passage was not in doubt’ and wrote that ‘“If a manufacturer could be held liable for failure to use a different design the word ‘unavoidable’ would do no work.”’ And Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote that to allow a jury to make decisions about vaccine design would be, in effect, substituting “less expert for more expert judgment.”

Justice Sotomayor specifically mentioned autism in a footnote, writing of a possible link “between certain vaccines and autism spectrum disorders” appearing to “underlie the majority and concurring opinions in this case.” She also wrote that the Court’s decision leaves ‘“a regulatory vacuum in which no one ensures that vaccine manufacturers adequately take account of scientific and technological advancements when designing or distributing their products”‘; families who allege that their child has been ‘injured’ by a ‘defectively designed vaccine’ have now lost a legal avenue to seek compensation. 

It is understandable that parents might think a recently-administratered vaccine might have something to do with a child presenting with unusual symptoms and even developmental delays. But there is mounting scientific evidence that disputes a vaccine-autism link, With recent revelations that Wakefield’s 1998 study was ‘deliberate fraud,’ it is seeming more and more likely that the notion of a vaccine-autism link has received far more attention that it ever ought to have. Such a notion led far too many people to undertake alternative treatments for a child who they allege is ‘vaccine-injured’ and, also, to invest both financial resources and energies in suing manufacturers, over and above much else.


More Care2 Coverage

Update: Lancet Study Retracted: Vaccines, Autism, Bad Research and the Damage Wrought by Andrew Wakefield

Wakefield’s Study Linking Vaccines to Autism was ‘Deliberate Fraud’

Autism and Vaccines: Why This Topic Won’t Go Away

Photo by joeflintham.


Judith Howard
Judith Howard6 years ago

Let's ask those powers that be who were involved in ruling to protect vaccine manufacturers if they would have their children vaccinated. Hands please?

Alex H.
Alex H6 years ago

Wake up Americans!It is fairly clear that you do not live in a democracy but a corporatocracy where the likes of Monsanto and giant drug companies are getting away with murder,literally,and standing over the government.The ordinary people are being lied to and misled on so many issues to keep vested interests happy and profitable.Even if this means ruining the health of babies and children with toxic chemical injections which are not safe or effective,it doesn't matter!In regards to the very brave and caring Dr Wakefield,his vilification has been scandalous,just because he and two other Professors discovered something which didn't suit the "sacred cash cow"vaccination and its billions of dollars profits!Dr Wakefield's findings have been replicated in a USA study at Wake Forest University School of Medicine!So now the courts have given the vaccine manufacturers indemnity from lawsuits!!!???How absolutely disgusting!The US courts appear to be very "compromised"from where I sit!There is no avenue for justice in the USA and vested interests rule the roost!If you think that corruption doesn't happen in your country,get your head out of the sand!!!No wonder the public are angry and frustrated!

Mit W.
Mit Wes6 years ago

Form what i understand of the history of the 1986 law, was that lawsuits threatened to push the last remaining supplier of a needed vaccine at the time, out of production. In effect, vaccine producers were walking away from the business, rather than weather the increasing lawsuits. Hence, the deal was made that if they continue to provide vaccines, the government would provide protection from lawsuits while proviidiing an alternate means of compensation to victims.

If this deal were to end, vaccine producers may again walk away from the business, or they will become prohibitively expensive.

David C.
David C6 years ago

Barbara S

There is no dispute that vaccination can cause adverse reactions including death. Are you perhaps allergic to Thimerosol? It has been eliminated from childhood vaccines but as I understand it, is still used in flu vaccines.

Denial that vaccines save lives is analogous to to denying the holocaust. It's estimated that 400 to 600 million people died from smallpox in the 20th century. The disease has been eradicated via vaccination. Clearly, vaccination should be discontinued when a disease is eradicated. Clearly risk/benfit balance is not the same for all vaccines.

Diphtheria increased dramatically in the old USSR coincident with discontinuation of routine vaccination. Measles has returned to endemic status in the UK coincident with parents refusing vaccination as a result of the Wakefield fiasco. Both events are strong evidence of the disease prevention effectiveness of vaccination. Reports of deaths from vaccination seem to be largely anecdotal.

Lee Smith provided a link to a Glen Beck like video on a phrase from a Bill Gates video saying that vaccination would reduce population. The absurd implication was that vaccination kills. A quote from a recent Gates interview: "[Vaccination improves health]. The [effect] that's the most amazing is that if you improve health, parents choose to have fewer kids. ... instead of ... growing the population .. it actually shrinks population growth." (From Bloomberg Busibness Week Feb 7 2011)

Barbara S.

Personally, I question the high and rapid dosages of vaccines to babies and young children. When I was a small child, I had such violent reactions to the first round of vaccines administered in the late 1940s, our family doctor was afraid to give any more to me. I was in a coma for a week, and nearly died.

To this day, every time I get a flu shot, I'm violently ill for up to a week.

The last time I had the flu, I was violently ill for a week, so I wonder: What's the difference?

There are some who suspect that vaccinations may possibly do more harm than allowing people to contract the diseases we're trying to eradicate. Some are saying that the loss of life is about the same, with or without having been vaccinated, but the quality of life (if you survive the diseases) is less likely to have been decreased with other illnesses.

You should read the book: Dr. Mary's Monkey. And then look at the earlier onsets of immune deficiencies that have cropped up in the children who were vaccinated against polio when they were young. A large percentage of those people are getting a variety of cancers and other diseases, and it has been traced back to the way the polio vaccine was initially made with monkeys who had diseases and the people making the vaccines either didn't know they were opening Pandora's Box, or didn't care...

David C.
David C6 years ago

Is there anyone who seriously believes vaccination kills more people than the basic diseases? Or are comments like those of Lee Smith just an ugly joke?

I don't agree with those who believe vaccination causes autism. For me, the evidence of a zero connection is compelling but an opposing view is not irrational. But to believe Bill Gates wants to use vaccination to cull the human herd is so stupid, it is not rational.

It would take no more than 10 minutes of research to find that smallpox killed hundreds of millions in the past century. That smallpox was eradicated by world wide vaccination. Killing hundreds of millions would INCREASE the population??? This is the prediction of the idiots who made the YouTube video link provided by Lee Smith. And this is only one disease. Measles was almost eradicated from the Americas by vaccination though it has reappeared since vaccination rates were reduced. Most cases involved unvaccinated children. Haven't these same idiots noticed the huge reduction in polio since the Salk vaccine, in diphtheria deaths??

If Lee Smith was indeed being serious, if he has like minded fellow totally uninformed citizens who vote, the US is in for a wild ride in this century.

Lee Smith
Lee Smith6 years ago

here's the address, copy and paste

Lee Smith
Lee Smith6 years ago

here it is...Bill gates says in the first 60 seconds the 3 things that will reduce population by 15%....the first item he mentioned is VACCINES, healthcare, reproductive healthcare we could lower that by 15%

WISE UP People.

Lee Smith
Lee Smith6 years ago

I'm very surprised that I agree with Sottomayor's comments...

Drs. Like Mercola, William Douglas and many others BELIEVE most vaccines are dangerous...they cause the body's natural immune system to weaken, thereby making the body more susceptible to virus, bacteria, molds, fungi, cancers.

Please take the time and look up on the internet the Bill Gates video where he is talking about population...he says in the vid that he is not worried about population growth. He proceeds to tell shockingly WHY that is.

He goes on to say vaccines ( along with 2 other specifics ) will REDUCE the population of the entire world by 15%. In the comments below the vid, people were confused that he said that b/c they thought vaccines kept people from dying from disease. Bill Gates attends the Bilderberg meeting, he is one of the elite that wants the world's population to be 500 million. To give an idea, the USA has about 332 Million pop )

Kids today are required to have almost 40 vaccines during school years. This is shocking and not healthy for long term survival. Add to vaccines, the GMO foods, they are building in timb bombs to deliberately reduce the worlds' population.

So now people CHILDREN injured by vaccines have little recourse...but the most HORROR is the day is coming when the GOV will FORCE all of us to take the vaccines. Obama involved himself 2 push for the flu vaccine...people didn't go for it thanks to drs like mercola and douglas.

Alicia T.
Alicia Todd6 years ago

Vaccines have been wrongly villified. The many free passes corporations have been handed in this country have only served to confuse the issue of medical efficacy. Let good science provide the evidence and let the corporations reap the benefits or the punishments for their products.