High court rules against Mt. Lebanon girl's vaccine suit

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WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Supreme Court today ruled against a Mt. Lebanon family in a case dealing with child vaccines, upholding limits to lawsuits against drugmakers.

In a 6-2 decision, the court ruled that the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act prohibited the family of Hannah Bruesewitz from taking their claim against drugmaker Wyeth to state court. When she was an infant, Hannah sustained violent seizures that have rendered her mute and in need of constant care, a condition the family contends was caused by a diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccine produced by Wyeth that the company later discontinued.

But the Vaccine Act established specialized no-fault vaccine courts to hear such claims. The Bruesewitz case against the Tri-Immunol vaccine was rejected in 1995, with the vaccine court ruling the family could not prove the vaccine had caused the seizures.

The family argued that a safer alternative vaccine was available at the time and it should be allowed to make its case before a state jury. Wyeth argued that such an outcome would prompt a flood of litigation and inhibit the development of new vaccines -- a position upheld by the Supreme Court.

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the majority opinion, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito. Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented. Justice Elena Kagan, a party to the case during her time as U.S. solicitor general, abstained from hearing the case.


Daniel Malloy: dmalloy@post-gazette.com or 202-445-9980. Follow him on Twitter at PG_in_DC.


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