The Bruesewitz ruling: Necessary & proper
The plight of Mt. Lebanon’s Hannah Bruesewitz is heartbreaking. Yet the U.S. Supreme Court rightly upheld federal law by ruling that her parents can’t sue the maker of the vaccine they blame for her seizures and developmental problems.
They claim defective design of a diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccine. The case went first to a special compensation system — created by a 1986 federal law and funded by a vaccine-dose excise tax — that essentially indemnifies vaccine makers against such claims.
After the parents’ claim was rejected there, they sued in Pennsylvania state court. The vaccine maker moved the case to a federal court, which ruled that the 1986 federal law pre-empted the state lawsuit. A federal appellate court — and now, the U.S. Supreme Court — agreed.
Justice Antonin Scalia’s opinion for the 6-2 majority said the 1986 federal law pre-empts “all design-defect claims against vaccine manufacturers … for vaccine side effects.” (Justice Elena Kagan, who worked on the case as U.S. solicitor general, recused herself.)
And then there’s the fact that the Bruesewitzes never proved their claim. In ruling as it did, the high court preserved the 1986 law’s necessary intent and effect — protecting public health against vaccine litigation.