Articles Posted in Health Law

by
In 2003, following a physical examination, Contreras, 13 years old, received the Tetanus-Diphtheria and Hepatitis B vaccines. About 24 hours later, he was diagnosed with atypical Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), a peripheral nervous system disease that causes descending paralysis. Three months later, Contreras was discharged from the hospital with a diagnosis of Transverse Myelitis (TM), an inflammatory disease of the spinal cord. His petition for compensation under the Vaccine Act, accompanied by an expert report indicating that he developed both conditions as a result of the vaccines, was denied, on the basis that the time interval between the administration of Contreras’s vaccines and the onset of TM was too short to establish causation. Contreras submitted the expert report of pediatric neurologist concerning his rapid adverse immunological response. In 2012, a Special Master concluded that Contreras failed to establish that the TM arose within a “medically appropriate” timeframe. Following a remand from the Claims Court, the government disclosed that the medical license of its expert (Sladsky) was suspended during the time that he had provided witness services in this case. The Special Master again denied compensation, stating that Sladky’s opinion “retain[ed] some value” and that Contreras did not suffer from GBS—a violation of the court’s instruction to refrain from diagnosing Contreras. The Claims Court again remanded, with instructions to address Sladky’s credibility in light of his misrepresentations and to issue an alternative ruling that disregards Sladky’s testimony. The Special Master denied compensation. The Claims Court denied review based on the time interval. The Federal Circuit vacated. The Special Master improperly diagnosed Contreras and failed to consider evidence relevant to his GBS. View "Contreras v. Secretary of Health & Human Services" on Justia Law

by
Eilise was born in 1996 and had problems with gross motor skills and language development. After therapy, Eilise showed dramatic improvement. In 2001, Eilise received three vaccinations, including her second dose of the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine. Five days later, Eilise’s brother witnessed her arching her back, thrusting her head back, rolling her eyes, and jerking. He did not know what was happening. Her parents, who did not witness the seizure, noted that Eilise was feverish and lethargic. Eilise had a grand mal seizure at school. She was taken to a hospital. She had another seizure there. Eilise’s MRI results were generally normal, but her EEG results were “consistent with a clinical diagnosis of epilepsy.” She continued to suffer seizures until she started a ketogenic diet. Her parents filed suit under the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, 42 U.S.C. 300aa, alleging that Eilise suffered from autism as a result of her vaccinations; they later amended to allege, instead, that Eilise suffered from a “seizure disorder and encephalopathy.” The Claims Court affirmed denial of her petition. The Federal Circuit vacated: in certain cases, a petitioner can prove a logical sequence of cause and effect between a vaccination and the injury with a physician’s opinion where the petitioner has proved that the vaccination can cause the injury and that the vaccination and injury have a close temporal proximity. View "Moriarty v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs." on Justia Law

by
Systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis (SJIA), an autoinflammatory disease, has symptoms including arthritis, fever, rash, and muscle and joint pain, caused by dysfunctional production of proteins, which cells release almost immediately after contact with an antigen. Gardasil, a vaccine against HPV administered in three doses, contains virus-like particles created from an HPV protein, and an adjuvant to generate a robust immune response. Vanessia, born in 1995, was healthy until 2008. After receiving two doses of Gardasil, she experienced an all-over rash. Days later, she had joint pain and high fever. The hospital discharged her with a presumptive diagnosis of SJIA. Vanessia’s family history included SJIA. Her rheumatologist communicated these findings to the doctor who administered Vanessia’s third dose of Gardasil on August 19. Vanessia experienced a SJIA flare on August 25. Vanessia’s Vaccine Act injury claim was rejected. Injuries that do not appear on the Vaccine Injury Table, 42 C.F.R. 100.3, require proof of a medical theory causally connecting the vaccination to the injury; a logical sequence of cause and effect; and proximate temporal relationship between the vaccine and injury. The Claims Court and Federal Circuit affirmed, finding that the claim did not meet the burden of demonstrating proximate temporal relationship. View "Koehn v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs." on Justia Law

by
Gilbert served in the Navy. His reported medical history upon entry into service revealed no psychiatric defects. After leaving service, Gilbert was diagnosed with major depression and required treatment for psychiatric illness and alcohol dependence. Gilbert acknowledged that he experienced depressive episodes and suicidal ideation throughout his life, that he has been abusing drugs and alcohol since he was a teenager, and that he continued to abuse alcohol while in the Navy. Gilbert sought compensation for psychiatric disability and other conditions with the VA. Multiple psychiatric examinations produced conflicting opinions. The VA denied service connection; the Board affirmed. The statutory “[p]resumption of sound condition” was applicable because no psychiatric condition was noted upon entry into service, 38 U.S.C. 1111; to rebut the presumption, the government had to provide clear and unmistakable evidence demonstrating that the disease existed before enrollment and was not aggravated by service. Based on Gilbert’s acknowledged history, the Board concluded that the government proved that his psychiatric illness pre-existed enrollment, but that the government failed to establish that Gilbert’s “pre-existing depression was not aggravated by active service,” and did not rebut the presumption of soundness. The Board nevertheless denied service connection, concluding that Gilbert failed to prove that his post-service psychiatric conditions “were correlated to [his] military experiences.” The Veterans Court and Federal Circuit affirmed. View "Gilbert v. Shinseki" on Justia Law

by
Bowers served in the Army National Guard 1972-1978, with a continuous period of active duty for training from August 1972 to February 1973. His records do not reflect that he incurred any injury or disease during service. In 2009, shortly after his diagnosis with Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), Bowers sought benefits for ALS and secondary conditions. A VA Regional Office denied the claim, finding that his ALS was not incurred or aggravated in service. The Board of Veterans’ Appeals rejected his argument that he was entitled to presumptive service connection for ALS under 38 C.F.R. 3.318, noting that reserve duty and active duty for training of the type Bowers performed does not generally entitle an individual to evidentiary presumptions. While his appeal to the Veterans Court was pending, Bowers died and his wife was substituted as the appellant. The Veterans Court affirmed, finding that Bowers did not achieve “veteran status,” and was not entitled to presumptive service connection. The Federal Circuit affirmed. View "Bowers v. Shinseki" on Justia Law

by
M.L. was born in 2003. At his 15-month well-child visit, his pediatrician noted that M.L. was walking and generally developing normally but did not “want to talk.” In 2005, M.L. received several immunizations, including the DTaP vaccination. Hours later, M.L. allegedly began experiencing an abnormally high fever and swelling. He was admitted to the hospital with a diagnosis of “vaccine adverse reaction with secondary fever, angiodema, and anaphylactoid reaction.” The morning after his discharge, M.L.’s mother called an ambulance because M.L. was exhibiting signs of hypothermia and seizure-like episodes. In the months that followed, M.L.’s vocabulary allegedly decreased. An MRI of M.L.’s brain with and without contrast was normal. After observing M.L.’s developmental delays and repetitive behaviors, a pediatric neurologist placed M.L. in the autism spectrum disorder category. A special master rejected claims under the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986, 42 U.S.C. 300aa-1 to -34, and the Claims Court affirmed. The Federal Circuit affirmed. While the DTaP vaccination likely caused the initial anaphylactic reaction, there was no reliable medical theory that the M.L.’s anaphylaxis caused a focal brain injury. View "LaLonde v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs." on Justia Law

by
Stallworth served in the U.S. Army, 1974-1975, during which time he experienced a psychotic episode that was attributed to his illicit use of the drug LSD. He recovered with hospitalization, but relapsed following return to active duty and was diagnosed with acute paranoid schizophrenia. A treating physician noted that it was not clear whether Stallworth’s illness was caused by his drug use or by independent psychosis. An Army medical board found him unfit for further military duty. Weeks later, a VA Regional Office awarded Stallworth service connection for schizophrenia at a 50% disability rating. Thereafter, Stallworth was often admitted to inpatient psychiatric facilities where medical professionals repeatedly opined that he had “no mental disorder” and that Stallworth’s service connection diagnosis was in error. The VA severed Stallworth’s service connection on the basis of clear and unmistakable error (CUE) and declined to reopen his claim because of a lack of new evidence. In 1981, the Appeals Board affirmed. The Veterans Court and Federal Circuit affirmed. View "Stallworth v. Shinseki" on Justia Law

by
Dixon served in the Army, 1979-1992, including as a chemical operations specialist in the Persian Gulf, where he was exposed to pyridostigmine and “encountered smoke from oil fires, diesel, and burning trash,” and had “cutaneous exposure [to] diesel and petrochemical fuel.” In 2003, Dixon was diagnosed with sarcoid lungs and transverse myelitis, which left him temporarily paralyzed from the waist down. He sought service-connected disability benefits. In 2004 a VA regional office denied Dixon’s claim. The Board of Veterans’ Appeals affirmed, Dixon filed a pro se notice of appeal, 60 days after the 120-day filing deadline, 38 U.S.C. 7266(a). The Veterans Court dismissed, concluding that it was “without jurisdiction.” In 2011 the Supreme Court held that the filing deadline is not jurisdictional. The Veterans Court issued an order allowing Dixon and others to move to recall the dismissals. Still acting pro se, Dixon sought equitable tolling, explaining that he suffered from physical and psychiatric disabilities that prevented him from filing in a timely manner, accompanied by a statement from his psychiatrist. The Veterans Court denied Dixon’s motion. Attorneys subsequently agreed to represent Dixon. The Veterans Court allowed until October 4, 2012 to move for reconsideration. The VA refused to provide a copy of the file and the earliest available appointment for reviewing the file was October 1. On that dated, VA staff monitored the review and declined requests for copies of documents. The Federal Circuit reversed the denial of an extension, stating that the disability compensation system is not meant as a trap for the unwary, or a stratagem to deny compensation to a veteran who has a valid claim. View "Dixon v. Shinseki" on Justia Law

by
Prinkey served in the Army, 1969 to 1970, including time in Vietnam. He was diagnosed with diabetes in 1996. Diabetes mellitus type II is presumed to be service connected if the veteran was exposed to Agent Orange, 38 U.S.C. 1116(a)(2)(H) (2002). In 2003, the VA received Prinkey’s claim for benefits on account of his diabetes, asserting exposure to Agent Orange. The VA Regional Office grantedservice connection for diabetes, evaluated at 20%, and lesser rated service connection for other disabilities secondary to diabetes. Prinkey sought to reopen his claim. During reexamination, the VA concluded that his diabetes more likely than not resulted from the surgery that removed most of his pancreas following years of alcohol abuse, not from his exposure to Agent Orange. Ultimately the Board of Veterans’ Appeals sustained severance of service connection for diabetes and related disabilities and denied entitlement to a total disability rating based on individual unemployability. The Veterans Court affirmed. The Federal Circuit affirmed. Under 38 C.F.R. 3.105(d) “service connection will be severed only where evidence establishes that it is clearly and unmistakably erroneous; the VA may consider medical evidence and diagnoses that postdate the original award of service connection. View "Prinkey v. Shinseki" on Justia Law

by
At age four months, Elias received a Diptheria-Tetanus-acellular-Pertussis (DTaP) vaccine. Elias developed a seizure disorder shortly afterwards. While a petition for compensation under the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986, 42 U.S.C. 300aa-1, was pending, Elias died as a result of his seizure disorder at the age of seven. A special master determined that the DTaP vaccine caused Elias’ epilepsy and resulting death. The Secretary of Health and Human Services and the estate agreed to a $250,000 death benefit plus $175,000 for actual pain and suffering and past unreimbursable expenses. The estate also sought future lost earnings under section 300aa-15(a)(3)(B). The special master determined that the estate was entitled to future lost earnings. Subject to the right to seek review, the Secretary proffered, and the estate accepted the sum of $659,955.61 as a measure of the lost earnings. The Claims Court affirmed the special master’s future lost earnings award. The Federal Circuit reversed, holding that an estate cannot recover lost future earnings under section 300aa-15(a)(3)(B) when the person injured by a vaccine dies before entry of a compensation judgment. View "Tembenis v. Sec'y of Health & Humans Servs." on Justia Law