Background on the Omnibus Autism Proceeding
The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, housed in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, formed the Omnibus Autism Proceeding in July 2002 to consolidate the thousands of claims petitioners had filed claiming that vaccines caused autism. The petitioners' lawyers formed a Petitioners' Steering Committee in order to consolidate the processes and, in conjunction with the Court, decided that all the cases filed fell within three theories:
- Thimerosal-containing vaccines (TCVs), in combination with the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, cause autism;
- TCVs cause autism; or
- The MMR vaccine causes autism.
For each theory, the Court heard general causation arguments as well as three test cases that supported the theory. Below is the status of each theory:
- Theory One: The trial began in June 2007 with general causation hearings and the case of Michelle Cedillo. The next two test cases were heard in Charlotte, NC and Orlando, FL in the fall of the same year. On February 12, 2009, the Special Masters released their decision, declaring that the MMR vaccine, in combination with TCVs, do not cause, or contribute, to autism.
- Theory Two: The second theory was heard in the summer of 2008. The Special Masters heard evidence for both general causation and two test cases. The final test case was heard one month later in July. On March 12, 2010, the Special Masters issued their decision stating that thimerosal-containing vaccines do not contribute to or cause autism.
- Theory Three: The final set of cases was scheduled for September 2008. The Petitioners' Steering Committee decided, however, that they had already presented evidence for this theory during the first trial, and requested that the third theory be dissolved. The Special Masters agreed, but wrote the following in their update: "If, at a future time, the PSC, or any autism petitioners' counsel, proposes a causation theory that is significantly distinct from Theory 1 or Theory 2, we will, at that time, consider the best way to evaluate such theory."
There are currently more than 5,000 cases on file in the Omnibus Autism Proceeding. Unless the Special Masters determine that there is no causation for any of the theories, all cases will be examined and categorized according to one of the theories mentioned above. Once a case has been categorized, it will then proceed to a Special Master. Depending upon that theory's general causation ruling, the case will either be dismissed or allowed to proceed to a trial.
If either the petitioners or respondents are dissatisfied with the Special Masters' decisions, they have the right to appeal to the Federal Circuit within 30 days. If neither party decides to appeal, petitioners then have 90 days to opt out of the program and enter their case into a civil court. This 90 day rule also applies to a decision received from the Federal Circuit. Petitioners may also choose to move their suit to a civil court if the Special Master does not enter a judgment on their case 240 days after it was filed.
For additional information on the Omnibus Autism Proceeding, please visit their web site.