(CN) – A parent seeking damages for claims that vaccines caused her child’s autism worded her complaint to re-characterize her daughter’s diagnosis, a special master for the Court of Federal Claims ruled.
Special Master Denise Vowell wrote that the petitioner in Holt v. Secretary of Health and Human Services amended her petition to remove every mention of autism in connection with her daughter’s illness. Instead, Holt claimed her daughter’s 2002 Hepatitis B vaccination aggravated an existing mitochondrial disorder.
Holt’s reasoning represents a trend of former petitioners in the Omnibus Autism Program to seek damages for autism-related symptoms under a mitochondrial theory following Poling v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, in which the secretary elected to settle with a petitioner who claimed his daughter developed autism-like symptoms following a series of vaccinations she received in a single day, Vowell wrote.
The special master added that such petitioners might be trying to avoid an impressive body of evidence that shows vaccinations are “exceedingly unlikely” to cause autism.
Holt filed her claim to recover from the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program set up by the government in 1988 as a no-fault alternative to a traditional tort-based system, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration website.
The program covers several vaccines, including the Hepatitis B vaccination Holt’s child received, and has a vaccination injury table which lists common injuries associated with various vaccinations.
But the Hepatitis B vaccination is not on the injury table, and thus Holt could not “avail herself of any presumption of causation” and instead had to specifically prove the vaccination caused her daughter’s illness, Vowell wrote in the 104-page opinion.
Holt’s initial complaint claimed the vaccination brought about her daughter’s autism, which the court characterized as autism spectrum disorder. The disorder encompasses a wide variety of handicaps that impair social communication and can vary in level and nature from child to child, the opinion said.
Holt filed a short-form autism petition for vaccine compensation, which automatically added her to the omnibus program. The Office of the Special Masters created the program in 2002 following a series of suits alleging that measles-mumps-rubella vaccinations and others containing thimerosal cause autism, according to the administration’s website.
The office created the program in anticipation of a large number of suits for autism-related illnesses, and by August 2010 over 5,600 cases had been filed in the omnibus program, the website adds.
But the federal claims court ruled in 2009 that neither the MMR vaccination – whether in conjunction with thimerosal or without it – nor vaccinations containing thimerosal were causal factors for the development of autism.
Vowell wrote that after the 2009 ruling, most petitioners withdrew their complaints from the omnibus program. But some, like Holt, pursued new vaccination claims on variations of the mitochondrial theory in Poling, Vowell wrote.
The special master said the parties in Poling settled. Since the case was not adjudicated, the causation theory the case advanced was abandoned and cannot be considered precedent.
Holt attempted to draw comparisons between the child in Poling and her daughter, which Vowell wrote highlighted more “differences than similarities” between the cases.
“In essence,” Vowell said. “Petitioner has attempted to make this case into the Poling case.”
Vowell found that Holt’s experts did not prove a link between her child’s illness and the Hepatitis B vaccine.
“A.H.T.’s problems are profound, and will no doubt continue to affect her life and the lives of her parents. I have nothing but sympathy for their experiences, but I cannot decide this or any other case based on sentiment. Unfortunately, this case does not present the ‘close call’ in which the balance of the evidence might be tipped toward petitioner,” Vowell wrote.
“Petitioner has failed to produce preponderant evidence that the hepatitis B vaccinations A.H.T. received can or did cause or significantly aggravate the conditions from which she suffers. Accordingly, the petition for compensation is denied,” she concluded.
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