Vaccine Act Preempts State Law Wrongful Death Claims of Parents of Dead Child Against Manufacturer Based on Design Defect and Failure to Warn

A child died after receiving a vaccine manufactured by the defendant. The child’s parents filed a claim with the government fund created by the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act and received $250,000 compensation.


The child’s parents then filed a wrongful death claim in a Nevada state court under Nevada state law alleging negligent design and failure to warn. The defendant manufacturer successfully removed the case to the United States District Court for the District of Nevada. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment. The district court granted the manufacturer’s motion for summary judgment holding that the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act foreclosed the plaintiffs' lawsuit with regard to negligent design and failure to warn.


The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the district court. Strict products liability and negligence claims, to the extent that they are based on allegations of design defect and failure to warn, brought by parents for their individual injuries are preempted by the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act. The Act expressly preempts design-defect claims seeking compensation for injury or death caused by a vaccine's unavoidable side effects regardless of whether a plaintiff is the vaccine-recipient or the parent of one. Similarly, the Act expressly preempts tort suits based solely on the manufacturer's failure to provide direct warnings to the injured party. The Ninth Circuit expressly did not reach the question of whether the Act otherwise forecloses a parent's state law claims.


See: Holmes v. Merck & Co., Inc., 2012 WL 4354664 (C.A.9 (Nev.), September 25, 2012) (not designated for publication).