The vaccine injury lawyers at Miller & Zois help victims pursue vaccine court claims under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP). VICP is a unique compensation system established by the federal government to handle claims for injuries caused by vaccines. The vaccine claim process under the VICP is often referred to as “vaccine court.”
Vaccine court and the VICP offer victims of vaccine-related injuries a fast and effective method of getting compensation. This page will explain the VICP program’s basics, how our vaccine lawyers can help, and examples of settlements and award payouts in vaccine court claims.
History of the Vaccine Injury Compensation System (VICP)
The development of vaccines has been one of the most significant advancements in the modern world. Vaccines have saved millions of lives and changed the nature of human existence. Not many generations ago, countless people were regularly killed by viral diseases such as smallpox and measles.
Today, these diseases have been eradicated due to the effectiveness of modern vaccines. Governments universally recognize the value of vaccinations across the globe, and many countries have enacted laws to encourage, require and protect vaccines.
Getting a vaccine is generally very safe, and most vaccinated individuals have no problems. However, vaccines can cause severe adverse reactions and significant injuries in a tiny percentage of people. Under our legal system, individuals injured by a vaccine have a right to bring a civil lawsuit for damages.
In the 1980s, companies that develop and manufacture vaccines started getting overwhelmed with a flood of vaccine product liability lawsuits. This new wave of litigation was sparked by allegations that the DTP vaccine (diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis), given to almost all children in the U.S., was causing catastrophic brain injuries in young recipients.
In response to the increasing threat of litigation, many pharmaceutical companies chose to stop manufacturing DTP vaccines. This triggered an acute supply shortage of this critical childhood vaccination. It also fueled concerns that the problem could lead to shortages of other types of vaccines. Congress responded to this public health issue by passing the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986.
Among other things, this new federal law created the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP). The establishment of the VICP had two primary objectives. First, the VICP was intended to relieve the burden vaccine lawsuits put on the pharmaceutical industry by requiring all vaccine injury cases to be brought in “vaccine court.” The second major goal was to streamline the compensation process for vaccine injury victims.
How Does a Vaccine Court Case Work?
Anyone who wants financial compensation for injuries allegedly caused by a vaccine must first file a claim for compensation in what is known as vaccine court. The vaccine court is a special department of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims that deals with vaccine injury claims and compensation under the VICP.
Below is a simple outline of the vaccine court claim process:
- A party or their attorney, files a petition for compensation with the U.S. Court of Claims. The petition is like a civil complaint and sets forth the facts of the alleged vaccine-related injury.
- The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reviews the petition and writes a formal report stating whether the facts in the petition meet the scientific criteria for compensation under the NVICP.
- A Department of Justice lawyer reviews the petition and writes a legal report evaluating the claim’s merits.
- A special master is appointed by the court to review the case, including the legal report and medical recommendation. The special master then determines whether the claimant is entitled to compensation and, if so, how much compensation should be awarded.
- If the special master awards compensation, the claimant must choose whether to accept or reject the compensation offer.
- If the decision is accepted, the Court directs the secretary of HHS to pay the compensation and pay the claimant’s attorneys’ fees. Attorneys’ fees are typically paid by HHS even when claims are not successful.
If the claimant opts not to accept the special master’s decision, they can appeal the decision to a judge on the Court of Claims. The claimant can also opt out of the vaccine court process before the special master decides and pursue a civil case instead.
Proving a Vaccine Court Claim?
To establish their entitlement to compensation under the VICP for injuries allegedly caused by a vaccine, claimants in vaccine court have two options.
First, if they can show that their case fits into one of the recognized vaccine injuries identified on the official Vaccine Injury Table (VIT), causation is automatically presumed, and they will be entitled to a set amount of compensation.
The VIT names 17 covered vaccines and identifies the injuries or conditions known to be caused by that vaccine. The VIT also identifies the accepted time frame after vaccination that each covered injury or illness is known to occur within (e.g., 48 hours).
Claimants will be presumptively entitled to compensation under the VICP if they can show that:
- The injured party received one of the vaccinations listed in column 1 of the VIT.
- The injured party suffered an “illness, disability, injury, or condition” listed in column 2 of the VIT for that specific vaccine type.
- The injured party’s first symptoms of their injury/condition match the applicable time frame listed in column 3 of the VIT.
For those vaccine injuries that don’t fit neatly into one of the categories on the VIT, claimants can prove their entitlement to compensation under the VICP by presenting evidence of causation between the vaccine and their alleged injuries. These types of vaccine injury cases are more complex and harder to prove.
The applicable burden of proof for vaccine court claims is the same “preponderance of the evidence” standard applied in most civil cases. This means claimants must show that it is “more likely than not” (i.e., 51% or greater probability) that the vaccine caused their injury.
Meeting this evidentiary burden in a vaccine claim typically requires three things:
- A valid scientific theory of how the vaccine is connected to the injury
- Facts showing a logical sequence of events between the vaccine and injury
- Facts showing that the injury occurred within the appropriate period
Proving causation in a vaccine court claim usually requires a complete medical history and medical records before and after the vaccine.
Vaccine Court Settlement Payouts
Claimants in vaccine court are entitled to many of the same types of compensation available in a civil lawsuit. Successful vaccine court claimants can be awarded damages for the following items:
- Medical Expenses: vaccine court claimants can get compensatory damages for medical expenses, both past and future (e.g., hospital care, rehabilitation, medication, doctor visits, etc.) for any medical treatment made necessary by the vaccine injury or condition. There is no cap on the amount of medical expenses that can be awarded in a vaccine court claim. However, claimants cannot receive compensation for medical expenses covered by insurance.
- Lost Income: compensation can be awarded in vaccine court for lost wages or loss of income resulting from the vaccine injury.
- Pain & Suffering up to $250,000: vaccine court claimants can get pain and suffering damages, but only up to a maximum amount of $250,000.
- Attorneys Fees & Costs: as long as the claim is made in “good faith,” compensation can be awarded for reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs, even if the claimant is not awarded compensation.
If the vaccine court case involves a wrongful death, the decedent’s estate can be awarded a maximum death benefit of $250,000. Claimants in death cases are also entitled to attorneys’ fees and costs if the claim is made in good faith.
The main difference between compensation awards in vaccine court and civil court is that the maximum compensation a claimant can get is lower. This is primarily because pain & suffering damages in vaccine court are capped at $250,000, whereas in civil court, there usually is no cap.
Recent Vaccine Court Compensation Awards
Below are summaries of compensation awards from actual cases filed under the VICP and heard by administrative judges through the vaccine court process.
Hinton v. Secretary of HHS 16-1140V (Nov. 2022)
Petitioner alleged that her son developed Guillain-Barre Syndrome due to an influenza vaccine (“flu shot”). The court awarded $176,493.68 for pain and suffering.
Ginn v. Secretary of HHS 16-1466V (Nov. 2022): Epilepsy from reaction to a combination of infancy vaccines for diphtheria, polio, measles-mumps-rubella, and Haemophilus influenzae type b. The court awarded $200,000, plus $5,000 per year, until the Petitioner reaches age 22.
DeLozier v. Secretary of HHS 15-124V (August 2022) Alopecia areata allegedly suffered from an autoimmune reaction to hepatitis B vaccination. Special Master awarded $50,000, but on appeal, the compensation award was increased to $250,000 (the maximum).
Felland v. Secretary of HHS 20-0406V (Sept 2022): Petitioner alleged permanent shoulder injury resulting from influenza vaccine (flu shot). $100,000 was awarded for pain and suffering, plus $1,352.70 for expenses, with no award for future pain and suffering.
Dezurik v. Secretary of HHS 20-1357V (Sept 2022): Another case in which the petitioner alleged that she suffered a shoulder injury related to vaccine administration while getting a flu shot (influenza vaccine). Chief Special Master awarded $105,000 for pain and suffering plus $6,797.01 for unreimbursed expenses.
Hire a Vaccine Court Lawyer
The vaccine court claim process is difficult to navigate and can be very complex. For this reason, almost all vaccine injury claimants are represented by a lawyer. Hiring a vaccine lawyer to handle your case won’t cost you anything because the VICP will pay for reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs even if you lose. If your claim is brought in good faith, attorneys’ fees will be covered.
Deadline to File a Vaccine Injury Claims
Claim for VICP compensation based on injury or an adverse health condition related to a vaccine must be filed within three years after your first vaccine injury symptoms. For example, let’s say John gets a seasonal influenza vaccine on July 1, 2020. On July 6, John starts to feel pins and needles-type weakness in his legs. A week later, on July 14, John begins to have double vision and difficulty moving his mouth. On August 15, John is diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome (“GBS”). Two years later, in September 2022, John first learns that the flu shot may have caused his GBS.
John has until July 6, 2023, to file a claim in vaccine court. His 3-year filing deadline began running on the date of his first symptoms (which occurred on July 6). This deadline would apply even though John does not discover that his GBS may have been related to the flu shot until several years later, after the 3-year limitation period.
The deadline for wrongful death claims in vaccine court is two years from the date of death or four years from the date of the first symptom related to the vaccine injury. When a new vaccine or new injury is added to the Vaccine Injury Table, pre-existing claims for that vaccine or injury must be filed within 2-years.
Common Vaccine Injury Symptoms
The VIT contains a list of common symptoms that are known to be connected to specific types of vaccine-related injuries or adverse reactions. Some of the more common vaccine injury symptoms found on the Vaccine Injury Table include:
- Anaphylaxis: a severe and potentially deadly allergic reaction where the body’s immune system releases a massive wave of chemicals that cause shock and trigger a sudden drop in blood pressure and difficulty breathing.
- Vasovagal Syncope: fainting from overreaction to external triggers causing the heart rate and blood pressure to drop suddenly.
- Encephalopathy: a general umbrella term meaning damage to the brain, it is listed as a presumptive injury related to the measles/mumps/rubella vaccines (MMR).
- Guillain-Barre Syndrome: a rare disorder where the body’s immune system attacks its nervous system causing weakening and tingling that can spread to paralysis of the whole body.
Vaccine Injury Lawyers at Miller & Zois
The vaccine injury lawyers Miller & Zois represent victims of vaccine injuries and can help bring your claim for compensation under the VICP in vaccine court. If a reaction to a vaccine has injured you, contact our office today at 800-553-8082 for a free consultation or reach out to us online. Our team may be able to help you.