Justia U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Personal Injury
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Cottingham sought compensation under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, 42 U.S.C. 300aa-10, alleging that a Gardasil® vaccination received by her minor daughter, K.C., in 2012, for the prevention of HPV, caused K.C. injuries. The claim was filed immediately before the limitations period ran out.The government stated argued that a "reasonable basis for bringing the case may not be present.” Cottingham’s counsel was granted additional time but was unable to submit an expert opinion supporting her claim. The Special Master denied compensation. Cottingham sought attorneys’ fees and litigation costs ($11,468.77), 42 U.S.C. 300aa-15(e)(1). The Master found no evidence to support the "vaguely asserted claims" that the vaccination caused K.C.’s headaches, fainting, or menstrual problems." While remand was pending the Federal Circuit held (Simmons) that although a looming statute of limitations deadline may impact the question of whether good faith existed to bring a claim, that deadline does not provide a reasonable basis for asserting a claim. The Master decided that Simmons did not impact his analysis, applied a “totality of the circumstances” standard, and awarded attorneys’ fees. The Claims Court vacated and affirmed the Special Master’s third decision, finding no reasonable basis for Cottingham’s claim.The Federal Circuit vacated, noting that there is no dispute that Cottingham filed her claim in good faith. Simmons did not abrogate the “totality of the circumstances inquiry.” K.C.’s medical records paired with the Gardasil® package insert constitute circumstantial, objective evidence supporting causation. View "Cottingham v. Secretary of Health and Human Services" on Justia Law

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The parents were domiciled in Nassau, the Bahamas. Mother traveled to the U.S. five times while pregnant. A.R. was born in November 2015, in Nassau, and lived in Nassau for six months. He received his first two sets of vaccinations in Nassau, with no apparent adverse consequences. During his six-month well-child visit in Nassau, A.R. received his third set of eight vaccinations that are listed in the Vaccine Injury Table and were manufactured by companies with a U.S. presence. Days later, A.R. became ill. A.R. was flown to Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami, Florida, where he was diagnosed with hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, an autoimmune disease of the blood. He remained in Florida as an outpatient, returning to Nassau for Christmas, and months later, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. A.R. underwent treatment, at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and at Johns Hopkins before he died.The Federal Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the parents’ Vaccine Act claim (42 U.S.C. 300aa). The parents asserted that the condition that caused A.R.’s death was a complication resulting from the treatment he had received for his vaccine-induced condition. The Act grants standing to a person who “received [a covered] vaccine outside the” U.S. if “such person returned" to the U.S. not later than 6 months after the vaccination. A.R., while living outside of his mother’s body, was never present in the U.S. before his vaccinations such that his entrance for medical treatment could be a “return.” View "Dupuch-Carron v. Secretary of the Department of Health & Human Services" on Justia Law

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In July 2010, L.M. was born at full-term and developed normally for six months. In February 2011, L.M. received childhood vaccines, including the diphtheria-tetanus-acellular pertussis vaccination. By that evening, L.M. had a fever, was lethargic, had poor muscle tone, and would not eat., Any disturbance caused L.M. to scream. L.M. began to have several seizures a day. At seven years of age, L.M. could crawl and walk with the assistance of a walker. She had a poorly coordinated grasp, suffered cortical visual impairments, and was nonverbal, though she could use a few signs to express ideas such as “yes,” and “no.” Testing revealed that L.M. had a genetic mutation.In a claim under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, L.M. alleged that the vaccinations administered to L.M. in February 2011, significantly aggravated L.M.’s pre-existing condition under two alternative theories. The Special Master denied the petition, finding that L.M.’s genetic mutation was “the most compelling explanation for her predisposition to develop a seizure disorder.” The Federal Circuit affirmed the denial of an “on-table” claim, finding no support for an argument that most encephalopathies do not become acute until after vaccination. The court vacated and remanded the denial of an “off-table” claim, which requires determining whether the child’s receipt of vaccinations significantly aggravated her seizure disorder in the face of an underlying genetic mutation. View "Sharpe v. Secretary of Health and Human Services" on Justia Law

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In 2012, Lozano gave birth to a baby. While still hospitalized, Lozano received a tetanus-diphtheria-acellular-pertussis (Tdap) vaccination. Two weeks later, Lozano reported a low-grade fever, body aches, and breast tenderness. Lozano’s symptoms persisted through visits to her physician and the emergency room. She developed abdominal pain, difficulty urinating, weakness, loss of balance, vision changes, neck pain, headache, vomiting, and dizziness. A brain MRI suggested that Lozano possibly had multiple sclerosis (MS), acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM), or vasculitis. Lozano’s symptoms improved with steroid treatment, following a working diagnosis of MS. After several months, a repeat MRI “showed dramatic improvement, suggesting that ADEM was a more likely etiology, which was confirmed through later serological findings.” Lozano’s doctors opine that ADEM is the likely explanation for her symptoms.Lozano sought compensation under the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act, 42 U.S.C. 300aa. Lozano’s expert opined that Lozano’s ADEM was the result of her receipt of the Tdap vaccine. The special master granted Lozano’s petition, finding that her expert’s testimony and the supporting medical literature demonstrated that the Tdap vaccine can cause autoimmune diseases such as ADEM and that Lozano offered preponderant evidence of a proximate temporal relationship between the vaccine and her injury. The Claims Court and Federal Circuit upheld the award of a lump-sum payment of $1,199,216.86, finding that the decision was neither an abuse of discretion nor contrary to law and that the fact-findings were neither arbitrary nor capricious. View "Lozano v. Secretary of Health and Human Services" on Justia Law

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In 1980, Langkamp, then a toddler, suffered severe burn injuries on U.S. Army property. In a suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act, the parties entered into a Settlement Agreement. The government agreed to pay $239,425.45 upfront to cover attorney fees and costs, plus a structured settlement: $350.00 per month, 1985-1996; $3,100.00 per month, guaranteed for 15 years, beginning in 1996, and Lump Sum Payments of $15,000.00 in 1996, $50,000.00 in 2000, $100,000.00 in 2008, 250,000.00 in 2018, and $1,000,000.00 in 2028. The government issued a check for $239,425.45 to the parents and a check for $160,574.55 payable to JMW Settlements, an annuity broker. JMW purchased two single-premium annuity policies from ELNY to fund the monthly and periodic lump-sum payments. Until 2013, ELNY sent Langkamp the specified monthly and periodic lump-sum payments. Following ELNY’s insolvency and court-approved restructuring, Langkamp’s structured settlement payments were reduced to 40 percent of the original amount. The Claims Court rejected Langkamp’s argument that the government had continuing liability for the Settlement Agreement payments. The Federal Circuit reversed. The Settlement Agreement contains no reference to the purchase of an annuity from a third party but unambiguously obligates the government to ensure that all future monthly and periodic lump-sum payments are properly disbursed. The court noted that in 1984 it cost the government approximately $160,000 to obtain a promise from an insurance company to fund the future payments specified in the Settlement Agreement. View "Langkamp v. United States" on Justia Law

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J.B. was born four weeks prematurely but progressed normally. At his four-month well-baby visit, J.B. was healthy, with normal chest and lungs and no fever, nasal congestion, or cough; J.B. received vaccinations for diphtheria-tetanus-acellular pertussis, inactivated polio, pneumococcal conjugate, rotavirus, and Hepatitis B. That evening, J.B. reportedly had a fever. At 4:00 AM and 8 AM, J.B.’s parents gave him Advil. In the early afternoon, J.B.’s father put him down for a nap on his back in his crib. J.B.’s mother checked on him and found him unresponsive on his right side. At 2:39 PM, J.B.’s mother called 911 and attempted CPR. Responders transported J.B. to the hospital. J.B. was pronounced dead at 4:01 PM. His crib contained soft blankets and a flat soft pillow but no clutter or toys. The medical examiner concluded that the cause of death was SIDS. In a case under the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986, 42 U.S.C. 300aa-1, a Special Master found that the parents were entitled to compensation. The Claims Court reversed and the Federal Circuit agreed, holding that the Special Master erred by lowering the standard of proof for causation in a case involving an injury not listed on the Vaccine Act Injury Table. The parents failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that vaccinations can and did cause or contribute to J.B.’s SIDS death. View "Boatmon v. Secretary of Health & Human Services" on Justia Law

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In April 2009, E.O. visited a pediatrician for his six-month visit and received several vaccinations. That night, Mrs. Oliver found E.O. seizing in his bed and called 9-1-1. At the emergency room, E.O. presented with a fever, red eyes with discharge, and a runny nose. The next day, E.O.’s pediatrician diagnosed E.O. with “complex febrile seizure and conjunctivitis.” E.O. did not have any health issues or seizures for two months but had several seizures over the summer and began to experience prolonged seizures in March 2010. Each seizure resulted in an emergency room visit. A pediatric neurologist diagnosed E.O. with an SCN1A gene defect. E.O. exhibited developmental delay. A pediatric neurologist performed examinations, which demonstrated “intractable, symptomatic childhood absence and complex partial seizures of independent hemisphere origin secondary to SCN1A gene defect (borderline SMEI syndrome) and encephalopathy characterized by speech delay.” E.O.’s family sought compensation under the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act, 42 U.S.C. 300aa-2–300aa-33, alleging that E.O. developed Dravet syndrome as a result of the vaccinations. The Claims Court and Federal Circuit affirmed the rejection of their claim. The government’s expert provided strong evidence that Dravet syndrome will develop in children with the SCN[1]A mutation, whether or not they receive vaccinations; the Olivers failed to establish that their theory has garnered widespread acceptance, as evidenced by an extensive discussion of articles with contradictory findings. View "Oliver v. Secretary of Health and Human Services" on Justia Law

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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