The Supreme Court ruled Monday that the federal government is not completely protected from lawsuits brought by those who contracted polio or suffered other adverse reactions from the oral polio vaccine.
The court, in a unanimous ruling by Justice Thurgood Marshall, overturned the dismissal of a suit brought by Kevan Berkovitz who came down with polio from Orimune, a so-called Sabin live-virus oral polio vaccine manufactured by Lederle Laboratories.The case had been dismissed without going to trial based on a determination that the government had immunity from such action.
However, Marshall wrote that the appeals court erred in ruling that federal law "required the dismissal of (Berkovitz's) claim."
The court's ruling does not ensure success for the Berkovitz family but gives them the right to pursue their claim. They must now go back to lower court and prove their case.
Berkovitz was given a dose of polio vaccine by his pediatrician in Charleroi, Pa., May 10, 1979, when he was about 2 months old. About a month after taking the vaccine, he contracted paralytic polio and now is severely paralyzed and maintained on a respirator.
The child contracted polio from the live-virus vaccine, developed in the mid-1950s by Dr. Albert Sabin and licensed and approved by the federal government. An epidemic of crippling - and sometimes deadly - polio had ravaged the nation in the early `50s, and Dr. Jonas Salk had earlier developed a killed-virus vaccine.
The family brought suit charging the government did not follow proper testing procedures before allowing the vaccine strain to be used.
In other action, the court:
-Agreed to consider new federal sentencing guidelines, which many federal judges have ruled unconstitutional and refused to use.
- Unanimously overturned the death sentence of Samuel Johnson of Mississippi. The court said Mississippi violated Johnson's rights by allowing his death sentence to stand despite the fact it was based in part on a New York assault conviction that had been vacated.
- Ruled 6-3 that states may not prohibit lawyers from soliciting business by sending mass mailings to citizens known to face specific legal problems.
- Ruled unanimously that police officers were justified in chasing a man who saw them and began to run, discarding packets of drugs as he fled. The court said the officers' pursuit was not an illegal search.
- Let stand a court ruling dimissing claims by actor Paul Newman that he has been cheated out of his share of proceeds from the sale and rental of videocassettes of two of his movies, including "The Sting."
- Refused to reinstate rock star David Crosby's cocaine conviction and five-year prison sentence, overturned by a Texas court only after Crosby spent five months in prison.