Attorney Fees

Vaccine court is profitable for some lawyers, who get paid win or lose

  • Print

Private lawyers have been paid more than $60 million for cases they lost in a national vaccine court that hears vaccine compensation claims contested by the federal government.

The system pays lawyers with vaccine court cases whether they win or lose, creating an incentive to overfile, the Associated Press reported in a story published in the New York Times on Monday. Among the lawyers who got paid were counsel for more than 5,000 losing claimants who alleged that vaccines cause autism.

The AP report is based on hundreds of interviews and a database analysis of more than 14,500 cases.

Lawyers who double bill or who submit questionable expenses are not disciplined by the court, AP found.

The AP investigation also found:

–Lawyers have relied on expert witnesses whose work was discredited.

–The vaccine court has relaxed standards of evidence and a lower burden of proof designed to favor payouts, but the government fights legitimate claims.

–Cases are supposed to be resolved in 240 days, but fewer than 7 percent of claims not involving autism met that target.

Congress created the vaccine compensation program to encourage vaccinations while helping people harmed by the shots. A 75 cent tax on each vaccine funds the program, which shifts liability from vaccine companies to the federal government.

One of the vaccine court’s “most prolific filers” is lawyer Clifford Shoemaker , the AP story says. He has been paid more than $11 million in fees and expenses in 390 cases not involving autism. The amount includes $4.1 million paid in cases he lost.

In one case, the story says, Shoemaker tried to charge for repairs to his car that broke down on the way to a hearing. In another, he billed for travel to Paris and Italy. One court special master said he submitted a bill that could “easily exceed the hours available in a day.” Shoemaker told AP he charged for the Europe trip because he needed to meet with experts there. He said other billing problems were honest mistakes and he now has a better tracking system.

Related story: “Woman who filed vaccine suit too late can still get attorney fees, Supreme Court says”

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.