U.S. Supreme Court to hear vaccine case
Russell and Robalee Bruesewitz sit with their 18-year-old daughter Hannah, center, at their home on Lebanon Avenue in Mt. Lebanon on Monday. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case brought by the Bruesewitzs on Hannah's behalf.
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For most of their 18-year-old daughter Hannah's life, Russell and Robalee Bruesewitz have been engaged in legal battle over compensation for her seizure disorder, which they believe was caused by a vaccine.
On Monday, the Mt. Lebanon family learned that they'll be taking their fight to the highest level.
The U.S. Supreme Court announced that it will hear their case, in which the family argues that there should be legal recourse beyond the administrative process set up by the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act.
Two hours after Hannah received her six-month diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccine in 1992, she started developing seizures and was hospitalized for weeks.
The seizures caused permanent neurological damage, said her father. Hannah has been diagnosed with residual seizure disorder and is "non-verbal" and "non-communicative," he said.
She attends school at the Children's Institute of Pittsburgh and needs 100 percent care.
When Hannah was 3 years old, the family started seeking compensation for her condition under the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act, a law passed in 1986 to protect the nation's vaccine production and supply by shielding manufacturers from costly lawsuits.
After about seven years in the federal vaccine court, the Bruesewitzes were denied compensation because they couldn't prove "causation" between the vaccine and Hannah's seizures, said Mr. Bruesewitz.
Shortly afterward, they sought to sue the vaccine maker, Wyeth, in state court, where they would not have to prove causation.
Last year, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled against the Bruesewitzes, saying that under federal law, drug makers cannot be sued over injuries that were "unavoidable" if the vaccine was made properly.
The Bruesewitzes argue that Hannah's injuries were avoidable because Wyeth could have made a safer vaccine but didn't do so quickly enough, said the families' lawyer, Collyn Peddie, of Houston, Texas.
Drug companies also sought to have the Supreme Court take up the Bruesewitzes' case, in order to make the legal issue more clear.
The Supreme Court's ruling could have broad implications, said Ms. Peddie, noting that the ruling may also affect parents who believe their children have been injured by other vaccines.
Numerous families of autistic children have sought legal recourse in recent years, claiming that the preservative thimerosal is linked to autism. Several studies have addressed vaccines and autism and found no link, including with thimerosal.
In the fall, when the case is heard, Mr. Bruesewitz and his family will be in attendance.
"We're hopeful," he said, noting that after 15 years the family had finally gotten some good news. "If something happens, it happens, if something doesn't, it doesn't. You play the cards you're dealt."
First Published March 9, 2010 12:00 am