Suit says Mt. Lebanon girl suffered severe brain damage
The U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether the parents of a Mt. Lebanon teen can continue a 15-year legal battle against a drug manufacturer for health problems they say a vaccine caused.
Robalee and Russell Bruesewitz say Wyeth Inc., now a subsidiary of Pfizer Inc., kept a dangerous but profitable version of a diphtheria-pertussis-tetanus vaccine on the market for years.
Hannah Bruesewitz, 18, started having seizures two hours after she received her third vaccination in 1992, according to their lawsuit. Russell Bruesewitz said the vaccination caused severe neurological damage that changed their daughter from a normal, active infant to someone who can't communicate and will need a lifetime of medical attention.
"She requires 100 percent care," he said Monday.
Wyeth took the version of the vaccine she received off the market in 1998, according to the lawsuit.
The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year upheld a Philadelphia federal court ruling that a 1986 law blocks the Bruesewitzes' claims. That law set up a "vaccination court" and a trust fund to compensate people who have adverse reactions to vaccines.
Even though the company won the 3rd Circuit decision, it joined the Bruesewitzes in asking the Supreme Court to hear the case because the Georgia Supreme Court, in a separate case, ruled the 1986 law doesn't block all "design defect" claims against companies that produce vaccines.
The company hopes the Supreme Court will settle the issue, said Pfizer spokesman Chris Loder.
The Obama administration has asked the Supreme Court to hear the case and to uphold the 3rd Circuit ruling.
Congress passed the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act in 1986 and set up the fund after several juries awarded damages to people suing over adverse reactions to the diphtheria-pertussis-tetanus vaccine.
The Bruesewitzes filed their claim with the Federal Claims Court in April 1995. A month earlier, the Department of Health and Human Services removed "residual seizure disorder" from the list of adverse effects linked to the vaccine. If they had filed their claim a month earlier, the Bruesewitzes would have received compensation without having to sue Wyeth.
"It would have been long over," Russell Bruesewitz said.
Instead, they had to try to convince the government that their daughter's ailments are the result of the vaccine. After the government denied their claim, they sued Wyeth.
If the Supreme Court overturns the appeals court decision, the Bruesewitzes still face going back to court and pursuing a 15-year-old case against Wyeth. The main things they want are the compensation the 1986 law seems to promise and some reform in the system, so that other parents don't have to go through the same ordeal, he said.
"We're not against vaccinations," Bruesewitz said.
They've handled the stress of the protracted battle by learning not to dwell on it, he said.
"You kind of put it off to the side and go on with your day-to-day living," Bruesewitz said.
The Supreme Court plans to hear the case in the term that starts in October.
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