A ‘black hole’ for COVID vaccine injury claims
(Reuters) - Altom Maglio says his law firm in recent years has litigated more vaccine-related injury claims than any other in the United States.
But 22-lawyer Maglio Christopher & Toale on its website has a discouraging message for would-be clients who believe they’ve suffered a serious injury from the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Our law firm has concluded that there is nothing our attorneys can do to significantly assist you,” the firm states.
Maglio told me his Sarasota, Florida-based firm has been “contacted by at least a couple hundred people” about suspected COVID vaccine-related injuries, including blood clots and cardiac inflammation.
It’s not that his firm doesn’t want to help. Representing people who’ve had (rare) major adverse reactions to vaccines for tetanus, measles, hepatitis, influenza and a dozen other shots is its bread and butter.
But the current system for handling COVID-related claims is different – and not in a good way. Because if you’ve suffered an injury related to the Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines, you’re basically out of luck.
As Renée Gentry, director of the Vaccine Injury Litigation Clinic at the George Washington University Law School put it, COVID vaccine claimants have two rights: “You have the right to file,” she said. “And you have the right to lose.”
At a time when the government is urgently trying to convince 70% of the eligible population to get vaccinated before the highly contagious Delta variant takes hold, it seems distinctly unhelpful to deny due process -- no judge, no judicial appeal and no transparency-- to the unlucky few who react badly to the jabs.
To be clear, I’m no anti-vaxxer. I couldn’t get a shot in my arm fast enough this spring once I became eligible. Being vaccinated meant hugging my parents and (mostly) ditching my mask -- and no longer worrying that every sniffle presaged dying alone hooked up to a ventilator.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention credibly stresses that the COVID vaccines are safe and “will continue to undergo the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. history.”
And the vaccine makers in a joint statement pledged to "Always make the safety and well-being of vaccinated individuals our top priority."
Still, more than 317 million doses have been given in the United States since December 2020, according to the agency.
With numbers that big, a few bad reactions are inevitable, regardless of what’s being administered. “Even if it was baby aspirin,” Maglio notes, “someone would have an adverse reaction.”
Which means we can assume a small number of people who got COVID-19 vaccinations suffered an injury as a direct result.
The question is, what to do about it?
Since 1988, the government has run a special, no-fault tribunal housed within the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (known colloquially as “vaccine court”), to handle injury claims for 16 common vaccines. Payouts (including attorneys’ fees) are funded by a 75-cent tax per vaccine.
I’ve written about the court before, and plaintiffs' lawyers in the past have expressed their share of complaints. The $250,000 cap on awards for pain and suffering is too low. The proceedings often turn into drawn out, contentious expert battles. The backlog of cases is substantial.