In a 6-2 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld a lower court decision denying a Pennsylvania family the right to sue a vaccine maker, preserving a 25-year arrangement aimed at shielding manufacturers from lawsuits that would keep such disease-prevention products off the market.
Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the court, said the 1986 National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act defended a legal quid pro quo set up to encourage domestic producers while providing qualified relief for those hurt by the new vaccines.
“The vaccine manufacturers fund an informal, efficient compensation program for vaccine injuries in exchange for avoiding costly tort litigation and occasional disproportionate jury verdict,” the court ruling said.
The purpose of the law was to balance two competing interests. Vaccine makers are generally protected from liability lawsuits while providing direct compensation, outside the courts, to families who can prove harm from a vaccine.
The 1986 vaccine act does not allow families to sue a vaccine maker over “design defects,” because taxing the drug manufacturers’ products while leaving them exposed to lawsuits over the “design” of those products “would hardly coax them back into the market,” the majority opinion said.