Civil society organizations have joined together to support petitioner Dr. Melissa Cloer in her quest that her attorneys receive payment for having brought her good faith, reasonable claim for a vaccine injury compensation.
Physician Dr. Cloer petitioned the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) in 2005 after she developed multiple sclerosis (MS) from hepatitis B vaccines in 1996 and 1997. The earliest symptoms appeared only a month after her last vaccination, but it was not until 2003 that Dr. Cloer was diagnosed with MS. It was not until 2004 that she learned about the possible link between MS and the hepatitis B vaccine in the scientific literature and applied to the VICP.
The Federal Circuit's Court of Appeals ultimately ruled that Dr. Cloer’s claim, filed more than three years after her first MS symptom, was ineligible for compensation due to untimeliness. The Court of Appeals did, however, acknowledge that her attorneys had brought the case in good faith and on a reasonable basis, meeting the necessary criteria for them to receive legal fees. Not surprisingly, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) contested payment to Dr. Cloer’s attorneys and filed a petition in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the issue on March 19th.
No time restrictions on legal fees are provided in the 1986 National Vaccine Injury Act, which established the VICP. The issue before the Supreme Court is whether or not the VICP should pay Dr. Cloer’s attorneys for having brought Dr. Cloer’s legitimate vaccine injury claim. HHS argues that lawyers should not be paid for bringing a late or an "untimely" claim.
Issues of untimeliness with regard to vaccine injury are common due to the nature of vaccine injury and the often-unclear onset of symptoms. The vaccine injured and their families will suffer if laywers cannot ensure that they will be paid for good faith, reasonable claims. Lawyers will be likely to turn down all but the most extreme cases of vaccine injury if HHS wins.
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