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4 min read

Vaccine Injury Payouts Rise

Below is an article from the Wall Street Journal regarding the rise of vaccine injury payouts over the past few years -- specifically those involving shoulder injuries related to vaccine administration ("SIRVA").  Vaccine injury payouts in 2017 are on the rise across the country. Our firm is part of the reason for this rise, as we have dedicated our practice to the representation of hundreds of clients suffering from SIRVA injuries over the past few years.  If you or someone you know has suffered a shoulder injury from vaccination, please contact us for a free case evaluation.   

A government program that pays people hurt by vaccinations recently doled out more than $1 million to Latasha George, a Louisiana nurse. Katherine Brooks, an Indiana emergency-room doctor, received $92,500. Roberta Livolsi, a retired Pennsylvania housekeeper, got $75,000.

All were deemed victims of the flu shot—but their injuries had nothing to do with what was in the syringe.

The patients were among dozens that have been diagnosed with “Sirva,” or shoulder injury related to vaccine administration. They were hurt by how the shot was given, not the contents of the vaccine. It is a growing phenomenon for which U.S. health officials increasingly have been awarding compensation and is now being added to a no-fault system intended to expedite claims.

“Several years ago, we noticed that cases stood out in which injuries were occurring not from a vaccine but from being administered in an improper way,” says Sarah Atanasoff, medical officer at the Division of Injury Compensation of the Health Resources and Services Administration, or HRSA, part of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Since 2011, the government has paid about $18 million to 112 Sirva victims—more than half of those in the past year. Twenty cases are pending, and dozens are fielded by lawyers every month, a rise attributed to the growing number of immunizations and increased awareness of Sirva in part due to attorneys devoted to vaccine-related claims.

The money comes from a trust set up in 1988 under a program to shield vaccine manufacturers from liability. It is funded by a small surcharge on vaccines. Since 1988, some $3.2 billion has been paid for a range of injuries related to vaccinations, including arthritis, encephalitis, polio and even death, according to HRSA. The government says victims compensated represent just one of every one million inoculations.

Claims against vaccine manufacturers cannot normally be filed in state or federal civil courts, but are instead heard by the U.S. Court of Federal Claims Office of Special Masters, which has no jury. This way, the government says, drug companies won’t be dissuaded from making vaccines and people won’t be dissuaded from receiving them.

Some people contend that vaccines are linked to autism, a theory that has been scientifically discredited. The vaccine court received thousands of claims seeking compensation for autism and set up an Omnibus Autism Proceeding to hear several test cases. The court dismissed the cases for failure to establish vaccine causation, according to court documents.

Until a few years ago, all compensation payments were related to the contents of the vaccines. Sirva is the first recognized side effect blamed on the way the shot is given. Later this year, the government plans to add the affliction to an official table of side effects that makes it easier for people to get compensated, HRSA says.

Sirva generally is caused by an injection improperly shot too high on the arm, Dr. Atanasoff says. This can injure the musculoskeletal structures of the shoulder, such as tendons, ligaments or bursa, causing sudden shoulder pain.

Ms. Livolsi, 77 years old, of Canonsburg, Pa., says she was in “excruciating pain” after her flu shot. Her doctor told her it couldn’t be related. After doing research she made the connection herself and filed a case with the vaccine court.

“The injury to petitioner’s left shoulder was caused by the administration of her October 3, 2012, flu vaccine,” according to a decision by the court that led to her May award.

Ms. George, the registered nurse, “is entitled to compensation based on a Sirva injury, which she sustained as a result of the flu vaccine administered on September 9, 2010,” the court said.

Ms. George, 39 years old, says she lost motion in her arm and was unable to lift a cup of coffee or wash her hair without severe pain. She received $1.04 million, government records show, including lost wages. “I will never get a flu shot again,” says Ms. George.

The government says Sirva symptoms include “severe persistent shoulder pain with prolonged restriction of function.” Most Sirva claims are associated with the flu vaccine since that is by far the most commonly administered vaccine covered by the program, Dr. Atanasoff says.

Ms. Brooks, 52, of Indianapolis, says she couldn’t lift her arm to wash in the shower after a flu shot in 2012. She says she got MRIs and other tests and appeared to have tendinitis. Her compensation was approved by the court in November 2014.

“I’m still having trouble with my shoulder,” Ms. Brooks says, “but nothing else can be done.”