Who Is Liable For Vaccine Complications?

Clayton T. Hasbrook

Written by Clayton T. Hasbrook. Last modified on February 20, 2024

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The COVID-19 pandemic brought to the forefront conversations about vaccines, potential complications that may arise from them, and who would be held liable for those vaccine complications. Historical contexts informed these concerns, given the medical issues and subsequent multi-billion-dollar lawsuits that have accompanied vaccines in the recent past.

Typical vaccine complications, sometimes called vaccine injuries, include swelling and pain at the injection site, chills, mild fevers, and fatigue. However, vaccines can sometimes cause severe, life-threatening complications, debilitating injuries, and even death. This article will explore the liability in vaccine complication cases and when you should seek help from a vaccine injury lawyer.

Entities Potentially Liable For Vaccine Complications

In exceptional cases, the two entities held liable for vaccine complications are vaccine manufacturers and the medical professionals administering the vaccines. It is important to note that

Close-up medical syringe with a vaccine.

medical professionals are rarely held responsible if they administer the vaccine correctly. The same immunity extends to vaccine manufacturers, who can only be held liable if there is proof that they willfully provided false information concerning the effects of their vaccines. 

This immunity for vaccine manufacturers came into effect after the DPT (diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus) vaccine caused adverse effects, and subsequent lawsuits resulted in millions of dollars lost to claimants. The manufacturers stopped producing the DPT vaccine, with the last manufacturer threatening to cease production.

The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP or VICP)

To prevent the closure of the last remaining major vaccine manufacturer and still compensate individuals with vaccine complications cases, the U.S. government established the VICP in 1988. The VICP is administered by the Office of Special Masters of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, which falls under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

The VICP adopted a no-fault system to compensate or dismiss petitions seeking compensation for vaccine injuries. This no-fault system means that vaccine compensation trials are not to determine who is at fault and thus caused the injury but rather to resolve the claim. 

Depending on a case’s merit, the VICP can compensate the petitioner. If the petitioner is awarded compensation, the VICP draws funds from a pool funded by an excise tax collected from every purchased dose of approved vaccines to make the court-approved payments.

If you believe you have suffered vaccine complications, you should consult a vaccine complications lawyer. These lawyers will help you research your case, file a petition for compensation at the vaccine court, represent your case, and much more.

Commonly Litigated Vaccine Complication Cases

Litigated vaccine complication cases involve illnesses, disabilities, and injuries resulting from vaccines listed in the Vaccine Injury Table, which the Secretary of Health and Human Services maintains. The table covers vaccines against tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), measles, diphtheria, mumps, rubella, polio, hepatitis B, chickenpox, Haemophilus influenzae type b, rotavirus, and pneumonia.

On rare occasions, these vaccines have been found to cause severe complications, including:

  • Vaccine-Induced Thrombotic Thrombocytopenia (VITT) – VITT is a recent addition to the vaccine complication field. It occurs when a person experiences blood clots (thrombosis) and low platelet counts (thrombocytopenia) after receiving either the AstraZeneca COVID-19 or Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine.
  • Vaccine-Induced Encephalitis – Vaccine-induced encephalitis is the brain inflammation that occurs after a vaccine. Encephalitis has been reported following vaccines for influenza, hepatitis B, measles-mumps-rubella, tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, and COVID-19.
  • Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) – GBS is characterized by the immune system attacking the nervous system, eventually leading to paralysis. It became standard after the 1976 swine flu vaccine.

There have been rare cases of GBS reported following COVID-19 vaccination, particularly with the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continue to monitor the situation. Still, these cases remain rare, and the benefits of vaccination generally outweigh the risks.

  • Anaphylaxis – Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening allergic reaction that may occur due to the body’s response to a vaccine. Though rare, virtually all vaccines can cause anaphylaxis.

When To Seek A Vaccine Injury Lawyer

When should you seek a vaccine lawyer? Consider these situations:

  • Consulting a doctor is essential when you are concerned about a possible vaccine injury or complication. However, if you disagree with their diagnosis, you may need to consult a vaccine lawyer to investigate your case and determine whether it can successfully go to trial.
  • When a medical professional has diagnosed you or your loved one with a vaccine injury
  • When you have filed or attempted to file a vaccine complication claim independently, a lawyer can help address any challenges you may encounter.

Some basic requirements a court will consider when you file a vaccine complication claim include the following:

  • Whether the claim you are making is covered under the Vaccine Injury Table
  • Whether your medical record can substantiate the vaccine injury complication claim you are raising
  • Whether the claim was filed within the period stipulated on the Vaccine Injury Table
  • Whether you can prove a causal connection between the vaccine and the complication you claim resulted from it

After you have filed your petition, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services medical staff will review it to determine whether it meets the criteria for compensation, after which they will make a recommendation that is then adopted by the Department of Justice (DOJ). 

The DOJ submits the report to a special master appointed by the courts who, after hearings from both parties, determines whether the petitioner should be compensated and to what extent. If the special master approves the compensation, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awards it. 

Suppose the case met some basic minimum requirements but might not warrant compensation. In that case, the court may dismiss the case but order the Department of Health and Human Services to pay the attorneys’ fees and the costs incurred in filing the petition.

Final Thoughts

Filing a vaccine injury compensation case and proving the injury in court may be difficult. That’s why it is recommended that you enlist the services of qualified lawyers with proven experience in vaccine complication cases. A strong and well-prepared case will significantly increase your chances of receiving compensation from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Fact-Checked

This page has been written, edited, and reviewed by a team of legal writers following our comprehensive editorial guidelines. This page was approved by Founding Partner, Clayton T. Hasbrook who has years of legal experience as a personal injury lawyer. Our last modified date shows when this page was last reviewed.