RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – For parents of young children, it is an emotional topic. Vaccines have offered enormous health benefits, but many parents believe at the cost of dangerous side effects. Right now the Supreme Court is deciding if parents who believe the vaccine gave their child serious health problems can sue the drug maker.
Steve Benjamin our legal analyst is here to sort out the case.
Ryan Nobles: Steve, if the Supreme Court decides this family has the right to sue a drug maker, won't this open up a huge door to many lawsuits being filed?
Steve Benjamin: That's certainly what the drug manufacturers say plaintiffs, and concerned parents on the other hand say that they're entitled to the greater safety that's provided by accountability. We have a balancing of interests here. What this case turns on, Ryan, is the meaning of the word "unavoidable," and it's a little bit trickier than it might sound. A 1986 federal law provided immunity to companies willing to manufacture vaccines for children, to encourage them to develop new drugs, and also provided a mechanism, an administrative mechanism for children who are injured by the vaccines to receive compensation. This immunity, though, is available only if the possible side effect is unavoidable, and that leads to the question of what exactly does "unavoidable" mean. The possible side effect of the vaccine used in this case was, in fact, unavoidable and rendered this child, they say, nonverbal and needing 24-hour care for the rest of her life. But the catch, Ryan, is that there was a safer vaccine available that the company could have developed and sold but chose not to because of cost, and so the question, when you really get down to it, is whether a side effect is unavoidable if a company chooses, for economic reasons, not to make the safer drug.
Ryan Nobles: Right.
Steve Benjamin: And that's what the Supreme Court is going to have to sort out. They heard arguments today.
Ryan Nobles: And will this be an isolated case or could it apply broadly across the spectrum?
Steve Benjamin: It will apply broadly because the court is going to interpret exactly what "unavoidable" means within this context. Now, tomorrow there's another interesting case coming up.
Ryan Nobles: Right.
Steve Benjamin: It involves a man on death row in Texas who has always maintained his innocence, and he has always asked his attorney, both at trial, and the prosecutor since his conviction, to test the DNA evidence in the case.
Ryan Nobles: And his execution was stayed hours supposed he was supposed to --
Steve Benjamin: That's right and he has said all along, 'I'm innocent, test the DNA' and both the attorneys and prosecutors have refused, so the question tomorrow to be argued is does he have a right to go into federal court and sue in order to force access to this evidence which he says will prove his innocence.
Ryan Nobles: And knew mentioned the interesting part of it is his own attorneys have not asked for it.
Steve Benjamin: Yes, it was not the brightest moment for his representation, but these things happen. The real question is, to what extent should we be willing to let people have access to evidence that, in fact, could prove their innocence, even after they have been convicted? Should we be scared of additional knowledge that's available because of technology?
Ryan Nobles: And that change as technology progresses and gets even better.
Steve Benjamin: Hopefully it always will. We always want to better ensure accuracy.
Ryan Nobles: Thank you Steve.
Steve Benjamin: Of course.
See the video at right for the full interview.