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Bruesewitz v. Wyeth
What’s at stake?
Protecting children from negligently designed vaccines.
Whether the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act allows individuals harmed by a vaccine that the manufacturer could have designed more safely to sue to recover for their injury.
February 22, 2011
6-2 in favor of Wyeth. Justice Scalia delivered the opinion, joined by Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Kennedy, Thomas, Breyer, and Alito; Justice Breyer filed a concurring opinion; Justice Sotomayor filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Ginsburg; Justice Kagan recused.
What the court held:
The court held that the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act (NCVIA) prevents individuals from suing vaccine manufacturers in state court for injuries arising from design defects in vaccinations. The law protects vaccine manufacturers from side effects that are unavoidable, but not all defects. The plaintiffs sued because their baby suffered seizures and became permanently injured after being injected with a vaccine that has since been altered.
The Supreme Court upheld the Third Circuit’s ruling that the plaintiffs' claims were preempted by the NCVIA. As in Riegel Medtronic, Inc. (2008), the court again used the preemption doctrine to creatively interpret statutory language in a way that prevents average Americans harmed by corporations from getting their day in court.
In her dissent, Justice Sotomayor stated that the statute should allow plaintiffs to sue a manufacturer in state court on the grounds that a safer vaccine design would have prevented the harm suffered. She argued that “the majority’s interpretation does considerable violence to the statutory text.” The dissent added that the majority “imposes its own bare policy preference over the considered judgment of Congress” and, in doing so, “excises 13 words from the statutory text, misconstrues the Act’s legislative history, and disturbs the careful balance Congress struck between compensating vaccine-injured children and stabilizing the childhood vaccine market.” The majority decision in this case could exonerate a corporation that decides against a safer, more modern vaccine design because it does not see the economic benefit of making the change.
- New York Times: Justices Reject Suit Faulting a Vaccine
- Wall Street Journal Law Blog: High Court Delivers Blow to Vaccine Litigation
- Brief for Petitioners Russell Bruesewitz and Robalee Bruesewitz, Parents and Natural Guardians of Hannah Bruesewitz, a minor child, and In Their Own Right
- Brief for Respondent Wyeth, Inc. F/K/A Wyeth Laboratories, Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories, Wyeth Lederle, Wyeth Lederle Vaccines and Lederle Laboratories,
- Reply Brief for Petitioners Russell Bruesewitz and Robalee Bruesewitz, Parents and Natural Guardians of Hannah Bruesewitz, a minor child, and In Their Own Right
- Brief for the National Vaccine Information Center, Its Co-Founders, and 24 Other Organizations in Support of Petitioners
- Brief for Marguerite Willner in Support of Petitioner
- Brief for Mark A. Geistfeld in Support of Petitioner
- Brief for the American Association for Justice, Public Justice and Public Citizen in Support of Petitioner
- Brief for Vaccine Injured Petitioners Bar Association, The George Washington University Law School Vaccine Injury Clinic, and Zenoria Phillips Deloatch, As Personal Representative of The Estate of Moshella F. Roberts in Support of Petitioner
- Brief for Glaxosmithkline LLC, Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp. (Formerly Known As Merck & Co., Inc.), And Sanofi Pasteur Inc. in Support of Respondent
- Brief for Washington Legal Foundation in Support of Respondent
- Brief for United States of America in Support of Respondent
- Brief for the American Academy of Pediatrics and 21 Other Physician and Public Health Organizations in Support of Respondent
- Brief for Patricia A. Buffler, Diego T. Buriot, Jose Cordero, Ronald E. Gots, Ronald Hart, Steven H. Lamm, Angus Nicoll, Onora O’Neill, Samuel Osher, James D. Watson and Richard Wilson in Support of Respondent
- Brief for the Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America in Support of Respondent
- Brief for Kenneth W. Starr and Erwin Chemerinsky in Support of Petitioners Urging Reversal