Vaccine Liability Provision in Homeland Security Legislation May End Pending Litigation
Pending lawsuits against Eli Lilly and other vaccine manufacturers alleging that their products cause autism would need to be filed again if legislation to establish a new Department of Homeland Security is signed into law in its current form, according to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), the Indianapolis Star reports (Groppe, Indianapolis Star, 11/21). The bill, which has passed in the House and Senate, includes a provision that would protect vaccine manufacturers from lawsuits filed over allegations that thimerosal, a mercury-based vaccine preservative, causes autism in children. Under the provision, a federal vaccine compensation program established in 1988 to provide liability protection for vaccine manufacturers would address lawsuits related to vaccines (California Healthline, 11/18). The legislation stipulates that vaccine manufacturers may only be sued if a plaintiff is "unhappy" with the remedy offered by the federal program, the Star reports. To ensure passage of the homeland security bill this Congress, Republican leaders promised to "revisit" the issue in January and amend the exemption so that it does not apply to lawsuits that have already been filed. However, Daschle said that because the bill will be signed before the provision is amended, all pending litigation "will be terminated," the Star reports. "All of that casework, all of those people exposed will lose access to the courts," he said. However, Jerrold Parker, an attorney representing about 1,000 families with claims against vaccine producers, said it is not known how the provision will impact pending lawsuits. "We might be able to convince some judges to hold off on dismissing the case, but we just don't know how it's going to be handled," he said. If Congress does not change the liability protection, Parker said plaintiffs will challenge the retroactivity of the provision as unconstitutional (Indianapolis Star, 11/21).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.