U.S. Supreme Court

Vaccine Design Defect Claims in State Courts Are Pre-Empted by Federal Law, Supreme Court Rules


The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that federal law pre-empts state lawsuits for design defects in vaccines.

The court ruled 6-2 in favor of vaccine maker Wyeth, which is now owned by Pfizer Inc., report Reuters and Bloomberg. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the majority opinion (PDF).

The suit was brought by the parents of Hannah Bruesewitz, who suffered seizures and developmental delays after receiving the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine. At issue was whether she could sue under a federal law that set up a no-fault compensation program for vaccine injuries.

The law barred 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 warnings.” Scalia interpreted the meaning of the law this way: “Provided that there was proper manufacture and warning, any remaining side effects, including those resulting from design defects, are deemed to have been unavoidable. State-law design-defect claims are therefore pre-empted.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented in an opinion joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Justice Elena Kagan did not participate in the case, Bruesewitz v. Wyeth.

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