Q&A: Autism and the Vaccine CourtSheila Bjorklund (of Lommen, Abdo, Cole, King & Stageberg, P.A.) is one of 10 attorneys from around the country on the Executive Steering Committee for the Petitioners (plaintiffs) in the Court of Federal Claims: Office of Special Masters. Bjorklund, who is representing 23 families, and more than 60 attorneys from around the country are working on behalf of all plaintiff families against the defendants, or “respondents” at the Department of Health and Human Services, represented by Department of Justice attorneys.
Here are the questions I asked, along with Bjorklund's responses:
If the courts determine that one or more of the test cases is legitimate, and awards families compensation, what does that mean for other families with similar claims? What kind of recompense is the court likely to award, and in what form? (cash money? services?)
If the court determines that the test cases prove by a preponderance of the evidence that it is more likely than not that the thimerosal in childhood vaccines and in this particular test case, the MMR vaccine have combined to cause autism and other issues, then the families would need to prove their degree of damages related to the vaccine injury. Awards under the National Vaccine Injury compensation Act are in the form of money. Awards are to cover unpaid past and future medical expenses related to the vaccine injury, past and future pain and suffering, and loss of earning capacity. Other families would still need to present the specific facts of their child's case, the court would need to determine that they are eligible for compensation and they too would need to prove their degree of damages.
If the courts determine that none of the test cases is legitimate, what does that mean for families who believe their children are vaccine-injured?
If the petitioners lose, there are a couple of avenues. They can appeal to the Judges of the Court of Federal Claims or they can go out to the civil court (state/federal) and bring their claims directly against the vaccine manufacturers.
Who are the 4,800 families who are also part of this case? How do the test cases impact these 4,800?
The families are from all around the country. They have on their own or through legal representation have petitioned the Court of Federal Claims, under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Act for compensation. This test case will only affect a portion of these families. It represents one of three theories of causation. For those families who are claiming the combined effect of thimerosal and the MMR have caused injury to their child, their case will be evaluated against the test cases for eligibility for compensation. For the cases in which the theory is that thimerosal alone has caused their child's injury, they will wait a little longer. Those test cases are scheduled to go to hearing in late 2007 or early 2008.
If a family feels that they are in the same situation as the 4,800 named in the trials, can they join the suit? If so, how would they do so? Or would they be better off going to civil court?
Any claim under the NVICP must be brought within 3 years of the onset of first symptoms or the manifestation of onset of the vaccine injury. If a family believes they may have a claim, they can contact the Court of Federal Claims or a lawyer who handles these cases. The Court of Federal Claims can give them a list of such lawyers.
Do you think this case will have a significant impact on how Americans view and administer vaccines overall?
This case is not anti-vaccine. It is a case in which a small number (%-wise) of children who were injured because they followed the recommendations for childhood vaccinations are seeking compensation under a program specifically established by Congress to accomplish that end.
What happens after these trials are over? Is this the end of the vaccine trials, or is there more to come?
There are more to come. The additional test cases will be heard within the next 9 to 12 months. Depending upon the outcome, there will be additional hearings as the individual claims of the 4,800 petitioners are heard.