Supreme Court: Drugmakers can't be sued for defective vaccine

In a six to two decision, the Supreme Court has ruled that families can't sue drugmakers if their children suffered adverse effects from a vaccine. A 1986 law designed to encourage development of vaccines protects companies from such suits; rather, they are heard in what's known as a "vaccine court." "The vaccine manufacturers fund from their sales an informal, efficient compensation program for vaccine injuries," wrote Justice Antonin Scalia for the majority. "In exchange they avoid costly tort litigation and the occasional disproportionate jury verdict."

The case was brought by the Bruesewitz family, whose daughter Hanna developed a seizure disorder after receiving the third dose of Wyeth's diphtheria-pertussis-tetanus (DPT) shot. Her parents filed for compensation from the vaccine court. Their claim was rejected, so they took their case to a federal court in Philadelphia.

Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg disagreed with the majority. Speaking for the minority, Sotomayor wrote that the decision "leaves a regulatory vacuum in which no one ensures that vaccine manufacturers adequately take account of scientific and technological advancements when designing or distributing their products." Justice Elena Kagan did not participate in the ruling.

The ruling will come as a relief for Pfizer, which now owns Wyeth. Had the Supreme Court ruled differently, the drugmaker would have faced up to 5,000 lawsuits from families seeking damages due to injuries they believe were caused by vaccines.

- here's the Bloomberg story for more