The Supreme Court ruled yesterday in Bruesewitz v. Wyeth 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 exonerated a corporation that decided against a safer, more modern vaccine design because it did not see the economic benefit of making the change.