The National VACCINE INJURY Compensation Program (VICP), commonly known as “Vaccine Court,” is a no-fault administrative court overseen by the Office of Special Masters of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. The premise of VICP relies on the fact that since vaccines are instrumental to public health, manufacturers who develop and supply vaccines should be immune from civil and federal litigation. When a vaccine-related claim arises, claimants must file in Vaccine Court rather than suing individual vaccine manufacturers. Successful litigants may be awarded medical costs, lost future earnings, death benefits, legal expenses, and non-economic damages up to $250,000. Cases must be filed within three years of symptom onset, and the burden of proof is a preponderance of the evidence (“more probable than not”) establishing a causal link between vaccine administration and injury.
Causation is most easily proved by successfully pleading a “Table Injury” from a table of known harms linked to defined timeframes for specific vaccines. Common Table Injuries include acute anaphylaxis from measles vaccination or encephalopathy within 72 hours of receiving DPT. Such maloccurrences are well-established in the medical literature and relatively easy to support by medical records and treating providers. In this regard, Table Injuries are purposely easy to plead. Causation is far more challenging for non-table injuries, such as atypical vaccine side-effects or injuries occurring beyond defined timeframes. The latter is established by proving cause-in-fact via a three-prong test in which the petitioner must present:
- A medical theory causally connecting the vaccination and the injury;
- A logical sequence of cause and effect showing that the vaccination was the reason for the injury; and
- A showing of a proximate temporal relationship between vaccination and injury.
Due to the inherent complexity of establishing cause-in-fact, Vaccine Court cases require expert witness testimony to develop biological theories of harm that causally link the implicated vaccine to a specific injury within a reasonable timeframe. Such experts may include Allergy & Immunology, Neurology, Pediatric Neurology, Infectious Disease, Orthopedic Surgery, Cardiology, and/or Epidemiology.