The Vaccine Injury Claim Process
A person who experiences an adverse reaction to a vaccine is not allowed to bring a lawsuit against the company that produced it or against the doctor, nurse, clinic or pharmacy which administered it.
Instead, claims are filed with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims located in Washington, D.C., by filing a petition.
The person with the claim is called a “petitioner” and almost all are represented by lawyers, just like any other lawsuit. A vaccine injury claim is subject to a statute of limitations, meaning that it must be filed within three years of the onset of the condition, illness, or injury, or within two years if the claim is based upon the person's death.
Attorneys Must be Admitted to Practice in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims
Lawyers representing petitioners must be admitted to practice in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. Most lawyers who handle personal injury litigation on a contingency fee — like car accidents, slip and falls, and workplace injuries — are not admitted to the Court and are not involved in vaccine injury claims. Most do not even know of the existence of the Court's program devoted to compensating persons injured by vaccines.
Out attorneys understand that a vaccine injury claim is specialized, complex litigation, requiring knowledge and experience unique to representing persons suffering from an adverse reaction to a vaccine.
Even though the court is located in Washington D.C., it is not very often that the petitioner has to go there. A unique aspect of this type of claim is that the fees of the lawyer representing a petitioner are paid through the Court, not from the injured person's recovery. This encourages injured persons to be represented by an attorney, because it can be done at no cost.
Special Judges Handle Vaccine Injury Claims
These claims are assigned to a Special Master, the judges who decide whether you are entitled to recover and, if so, how much. Vaccine injury claims are the only kinds of cases these judges handle, and there are no juries. Often this reduces the time it takes for a claim to be decided.
The “opponent” in the lawsuit is the federal Department of Health and Human Services (“DHHS”), which is represented by lawyers from the federal Department of Justice (“DOJ”).
As the opponent, the DHHS and DOJ will investigate the claim, and determine if they believe it is eligible for compensation. If their investigation concludes you are entitled to compensation, they will work with you to settle upon the amount of recovery.
If they determine otherwise, they will try to defeat your claim. In that situation, the Special Master who is assigned the case will ultimately decide whether and how much you should be compensated. As with most lawsuits, these claims are often settled before they have to be decided by the Special Master.
Timing for Claim Resolution Can Vary Greatly
The time from the beginning of filing a petition to the time when a case is decided varies greatly. Sometimes cases can be settled in a relatively short period of time, so that the petitioner receives payment within nine months.
The more complicated the case, usually involving more serious injuries and larger awards, the longer this period of time. Claims are paid up to 18 to 24 months after they are filed — sometimes longer.