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Federal Circuit Strikes Vaccine Act Award for SIDS Death

Nov. 7, 2019, 3:56 PM

The parents of a baby found dead in his crib aren’t entitled to recover compensation under the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act because they didn’t have “sound and reliable” proof a vaccine caused his death, the Federal Circuit said Nov. 7.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a lower court’s conclusion that a special master erred by awarding compensation to Chase Boatman and Maurina Cupid, whose baby’s death was attributed to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Baby J.B. had received vaccinations for diphtheria-tetanus-acellular pertussis, polio, rotavirus, and Hepatitis B the day before he died.

A vaccine is presumed to have caused or contributed to an injury listed on the Vaccine Act Injury Table that occurred within a certain time after the vaccine was administered. Causation must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence for claims involving unlisted, or “off-table,” injuries.

SIDS is an off-table injury. Both sides presented expert causation testimony at a hearing about J.B.'s death.

A leading SIDS researcher said SIDS occurs when three factors are present: a vulnerability, such as prematurity, male gender, race, or maternal smoking during pregnancy; a baby is in its first six months of life; and “exogenous stressors,” such as a prone sleep position, soft bedding, or overheating, are present.

The researcher said vaccines aren’t such stressors. The petitioners’ expert disagreed with her.

But the petitioners’ expert didn’t provide a “reputable medical or scientific explanation” for how vaccines cause SIDS and, by extension, how they caused or contributed to J.B.'s death, the Federal Circuit said. His explanation was “plausible,” but that fell short of the standard required to recover for off-table injuries, it said.

Chief Judge Sharon Prost wrote the opinion. Judge Evan J. Wallach wrote a concurring opinion.

Judge Pauline Newman dissented. SIDS isn’t a cause of death; it’s an admission that the cause of death is unknown, Newman said. The close temporal proximity between a vaccine and the fever and death of a healthy baby presents a reasonable likelihood the vaccine caused or contributed to the injury, she said.

Conway Homer PC represented the petitioners. The Justice Department represented the government.

The case is Boatman v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs., Fed. Cir., No. 18-2333, 11/7/19.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mary Anne Pazanowski in Washington at mpazanowski@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at jmeyer@bloomberglaw.com; Steven Patrick at spatrick@bloomberglaw.com