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Thursday, June 20, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Firms Don’t Owe Makers of Flawed Autism Data

(CN) - The pair behind a "biased" and "deeply flawed" article that linked autism to vaccinations cannot demand consulting fees from law firms that brought thousands of unsuccessful claims, a federal judge ruled.

Dr. Mark Geier and his son, David Geier, had been tapped in 2003 and 2004, respectively, to consult on a petitioner's steering committee, or PSC, created by the Court of Federal Claims to sort out more than 5,000 claims alleging that mandatory childhood vaccination caused autism.

In six test cases, the PSC applied the gathered evidence to two general causation theories regarding an immunization shot against measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) and vaccines containing the mercury-based vaccine preservative thimerosal.

As the dust settled, and the causation theories failed in each test case, leaving the petitioners without any compensation, questions arose over the studies and published articles that the Geiers had sumbitted.

Though the Geiers and two other doctors sought $447,000 in compensation for their work, they came up short in the Vaccine Court, a name commonly given to the tribunal that hears cases under the Vaccine Injury Compensation Act.

That panel slammed the original medical article penned by those experts as "dishonest and unacceptable, involving adding numbers which [were] completely invented."

Finding that the younger Geier had only a bachelor's degree in biology, the court said he was not a qualified medical expert and deserved no compensation. The elder Geier was allowed to recoup just over $33,000, with notations in the record about his "intellectually dishonest" testimony and "blatant, result-oriented testimony."

In April 2011, the Maryland State Board of Physicians suspended Geier's medical license, and rebuked him for trying to pass himself off as a board-certified geneticist and a board-certified epidemiologist.

That same month, the Geiers filed a state-court complaint against the PSC, several law firms that worked on the case and two individual lawyers. When four law firms won dismissal from that suit, the Geiers sued them again in federal court.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer in Washington dismissed the $600,000 claims against those firms: Conway, Homer & Chin-Caplan of Boston; John H. Kim & Associates of Houston; Lommen, Abdo, Cole, King & Stageberg of Minneapolis; and Williams, Kherkher, Hart & Boundas of Houston.

"The Geiers' malpractice claim is based on the disingenuous assertion that the agreement to assist the Geiers in petitioning the Vaccine Court for fee payment created an attorney-client relationship between the Geiers and the law firms," Collyer wrote. "This allegation is not 'plausible on its face.'"

Likewise, the Geiers failed to show unjust enrichment, according to the ruling.

"From the outset, the Geiers contemplated that their work would benefit all of the petitioners' counsel in Vaccine Court, whether or not such counsel were members of the PSC, and thus the law firms were not unjustly enriched," the 31-page opinion states (emphasis in original). "Further, given the reaction of Vaccine Court to the Geiers it is doubtful that the law firms were particularly benefitted by the Geiers' services."

The civil conspiracy claims failed, as well.

"The Geiers' civil conspiracy allegations are threadbare accusations that fail to state a claim, let alone meet the heightened pleading standard required by Rule 9(b)," Collyer wrote.

She notes that the Geiers' claims in Maryland remain pending against Williams, Love, O'Leary & Powers, and its partners, Michael Williams and Tom Powers.

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