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Vaccine Injuries

Thanks to successful immunization programs in the United States, many once life-threatening diseases are now well-controlled. Some have been almost completely eradicated. Overall, vaccines have proven to be extremely safe, with harmful side effects being both rare and typically mild. Nonetheless, the fact remains that people can and do suffer significant injury caused by vaccinations. If you or a loved one have been hurt because of a vaccine, I can help you obtain the compensation you deserve.

The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program

Until the 1980s, if you were injured by a vaccine, you would file a lawsuit against the vaccine's manufacturer and the healthcare provider who gave it to you. But in 1986, Congress created the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (the VICP) in response to fears that the number of lawsuits being brought against vaccine companies and medical professionals could potentially result in vaccine shortages and reduced vaccination rates, which could in turn lead to a dangerous increase in vaccine-preventable diseases. The VICP establishes an alternative to traditional litigation that offers a no-fault method of compensation for people severely injured by most vaccines. Nowadays, you cannot file a lawsuit in court without first applying to the program for compensation.

What does "no-fault" mean here? In traditional litigation, the plaintiff must offer proof that the vaccine caused her injuries (that is, that the injuries were the vaccine's fault). This proof often requires medical records and expert witness testimony. Under the VICP, however, the injured party is usually relieved of the burden to prove causation. The VICP covers most vaccines routinely given to both children and adults in the U.S., including, for example:

  • measles;
  • mumps;
  • rubella;
  • polio;
  • pertussis;
  • tetanus;
  • HPV; and
  • seasonal flu.

If you suffer an injury you believe to be caused by a covered vaccine, you may file a petition with the US Court of Federal Claims. Vaccine injury tables list the various injuries or conditions associated with particular vaccines. If you have experienced any of these injuries, conditions or symptoms within a specified time period, it is presumed that the vaccine caused your injuries. Thus, you do not need to prove that the vaccine actually caused the harm you suffered. If, however, your injuries do not match the ones on the vaccine injury table, you can still offer evidence to prove that the vaccine caused the harm.

Who Can File a Petition?

Anyone who has received a covered vaccine can file a petition to recover for injuries they believe were caused by that vaccine. You do not need to be a US citizen, although in most cases the vaccine must have been administered in the US. You may also file a petition as the parent or legal guardian of a child or disabled adult if you believe that they were injured by a covered vaccine. Additionally, if you are the legal representative of the estate of a deceased person, you may file a petition if you believe they were injured by, or their death resulted from, administration of a covered vaccine.

In addition, your injury must be severe. The injury's effects must have:

  • lasted for more than 6 months after the vaccination; or
  • resulted in inpatient hospitalization and surgical intervention; or
  • resulted in death.
How Does the Program Work?

If you suffer a severe injury you believe is caused by a covered vaccine, the first step is to file a petition with the US Court of Federal Claims. The court's website provides guidance for the petition's form and contents. Thereafter, medical staff from the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reviews the petition to determine whether it meets the medical requirements for compensation. HHS staff then makes an initial recommendation.

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) represents HHS in court. DOJ prepares a report that contains its own legal analysis of the petition and HHS's recommendation. DOJ then submits this report to a court-appointed special master who will handle the case. A special master is similar to a judge, but plays a more active role in guiding the proceedings and reaching out to the parties. Proceedings before a special master are typically more informal and cooperative.

The special master determines whether the petitioner is entitled to compensation, often after holding a hearing at which both sides present evidence. Even though you may not have to prove causation, you will have to offer evidence of damages to establish the amount of compensation you are entitled to. Often, the parties will negotiate a settlement without a final decision being reached. If there is no settlement, and if the special master declines to award compensation, the petitioner may appeal that decision, or reject it and pursue traditional litigation in civil court. In addition, the special master will usually order that HHS pay the petitioner's reasonable attorneys fees and other legal costs as long as the petition was reasonable and filed in good faith, even if the petitioner does not receive compensation for damages.

Do I Really Need a Lawyer?

You may be wondering if you really need a vaccine injury attorney to help you through this process. Most people do turn to a vaccine injury lawyer for assistance. Although the program was created partly to establish a more accessible and cheaper avenue for people injured by common vaccines to obtain compensation, it remains a complex legal proceeding with particular filing deadlines and form requirements. Remember that HHS is represented throughout by an attorney from the Department of Justice. And remember that attorneys fees and costs will be included in your compensation award. Even if you do not obtain compensation, in most cases the special master will still order HHS to pay your attorneys fees and costs, as long as your petition was reasonable and filed in good faith. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain from consulting experienced counsel.

If you believe a vaccine has harmed you or a loved one, please contact Allen Gardner Law, PLLC at (903) 944-7537, or via our website contact form. Based in Tyler, TX, our vaccine injury attorney would be proud to represent clients across Texarkana, Longview, and Terrell, TX throughout this process. We'd be happy to help you achieve a fair recovery.

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