On Friday, November 2, 2012, the Federal Circuit affirmed dismissal of a lawsuit by a plaintiff who alleged that a flu vaccination caused her to develop dysautonomia (a neurological disorder). In upholding the dismissal, the appellate court held that the plaintiff must show that the vaccine directly caused her injury.
The plaintiff was administered a flu vaccination in 2003 and subsequently developed an autonomic disorder. She filed for compensation under the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 (“Vaccine Act”) in 2007. A special master assigned to the plaintiff’s claim determined its validity by relying on the Federal Circuit’s decision in Althen v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, in which the court held that a plaintiff must show: "(1) a medical theory causally connecting the vaccination and the injury; (2) a logical sequence of cause and effect showing that the vaccination was the reason for the injury; and (3) a showing of a proximate temporal relationship between vaccination and injury." The special master examined expert testimony and found that the plaintiff could not meet her burden in proving that her autonomic disorder was linked to a vaccine-triggered immune response, failing to establish the second Althen factor.
On appeal before the Federal Circuit, the plaintiff argued that it was “improper” for the special master to focus on the second, “actual causation,” Althen factor and “exclude” the other factors; that the court imposed an “unduly high burden of proof” on her to link the vaccine to her injury; and that the special master’s conclusion denying her compensation under the Vaccine Act was arbitrary and capricious. The appellate court rejected these arguments, finding no error in the examination of the Althen factors and stating that it was proper for the special master to determine “based on the record evidence as a whole and the totality of the case, whether it has been shown by a preponderance of the evidence that a vaccine caused the [petitioner's] injury.” Because the special master’s findings were not “wholly implausible” and were articulated with a “rational basis for his decision,” the appellate court ruled that the special master’s findings were “fatal” to plaintiff’s petition for compensation under the Vaccine Act.
For more information, please refer to Hibbard v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, No. 2012-5007, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.