Court of Appeals: Child Entitled to Vaccine Program Compensation

Lommen Abdo Vaccine Group Attorney Sheila Bjorklund obtained a favorable United States Court of Appeals Decision on National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program claim in Paluck v. Secretary of Health and Human Services.

After an epic eight year long battle of hearings, appeals and remands, the Court of Appeals upheld a Court of Federal Claims Judge’s ruling which set aside a Special Master’s evidentiary decision for making arbitrary and capricious findings and conclusions of law. This set aside came after one previous appeal and remand where the Court of Federal Claims Judge specifically asked the Special Master to make additional findings and conclusions of law in conformance with the record evidence. In essence, the Special Master continued to deny the minor child entitlement to the Vaccine Program on multiple grounds and without support from the record evidence in the case.

Two significant points emerge from the Court’s decision:

  • In this legislative program, by statute, the Court of Federal Claims has the distinct power to set aside findings and conclusions of law of Special Masters and issue its own findings and conclusions; and
  • “Discretion” cannot be used as a proverbial umbrella to insulate Special Masters from misconstruing theories of causation or the record itself.

The Court cautioned, “where, as here, a special master misapprehends a petitioner’s theory of causation, misconstrues his medical records, and makes factual inferences wholly unsupported by the record, the Court of Federal Claims is not only authorized, but obliged, to set aside the special master’s findings of fact and conclusions of law.”

In sum, the Vaccine Program must remain a non-adversarial and no-fault program of getting injured claimants compensation “quickly, easily and with certainty and generosity.”  And when the Vaccine Program falls outside these bright lines, it is the duty of the Court of Federal Claims and the Federal Court of Appeals to set aside the mistake and correct it.

The minor child’s case will now proceed to a determination of the amount of compensation due for his injuries and damages such as pain and suffering, loss of earning capacity and out of pocket medical expenses.