Obscure Program Becoming Known

By Dominic Bencivenga
Staff Writer
Trenton, New Jersey
April 22, 1990

In the past several weeks, the Chicago law firm of McDowell and Colantoni has helped two clients win almost $7 million under a federal compensation program for people suffering from debilitating injuries caused by vaccines.

In April, the firm helped a Pennsylvania boy who has between 100 and 2,000 seizures a day. He was awarded $4.5 million.

On Tuesday, 6-year-old Cassidy Watkins from Sarasota, who suffers seizures because of a 1984 measles vaccination, received $2.4 million.

That case has focused attention on a little-known federal program that could provide life-saving resources for those injured by vaccines - some who might have thought they had no recourse because injuries occurred as long as 40 years ago.

After stories about that case appeared in newspapers and on television on Thursday, the phones at the law firm were "ringing off the hook" - calls from people whose children had been diagnosed as epileptic or as victims of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome after receiving vaccination shots.

"We were appalled how many people were out there calling us," said Kenneth B. Moll, an attorney with the firm.

The Vaccine Injury Compensation Program is designed to provide "no-fault" compensation for people who have had reactions to vaccines for diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, measles, mumps, rubella and polio.

If vaccination caused injury, that person is entitled to compensation. When approved, the program was seen as a way to compensate victims while releasing drug manufacturers from liability.

The deadline for those injured before the legislation was enacted is Oct. 1, 1990, and awards for those injuries can only be used for future expenses. Congressional appropriations and excise tax on vaccinations finance the program.

Mary Morrison, a medical records administrator with the vaccine program, said only 294 claims have been filed to date, and 67 or 68 have been settled.

The cash award is based on a life-care plan listing the need of the person injured, Morrison said, and a $250,000 cap is placed on claims for child death.

A toll-free line will be installed by Monday, Morrison said. For details, call 1-800-338-2382.