The estate of a woman who died from vaccine-related complications may recover death benefits, but not injury benefits, under the federal Vaccine Act, according to a ruling by the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals in Griglock v. Secretary of Health and Human Services. A Special Master found that the woman’s death was attributable to an influenza vaccination, allowing the death benefits claim to proceed, but also found that the statute of limitations for an injury benefits claim had expired. The Court of Federal Claims and the Federal Circuit affirmed that decision.
The decedent, Sophie Griglock, received a vaccination for influenza on October 6, 2005, when she was seventy years old. In late November 2005, a neurologist diagnosed her with Guillian-Barré Syndrome (GBS), a disorder in which the immune system attacks the nervous system. It can cause paralysis and death due to an inability to breathe. Griglock died of GBS-related respiratory failure on May 11, 2007.
Griglock’s estate filed a petition for compensation with the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) in April 2009. HHS did not contest the question of whether the vaccine caused Griglock’s GBS. It recommended death benefits of $250,000, the maximum amount allowed by the Vaccine Act. The estate also requested injury benefits under the Vaccine Act to compensate for Griglock’s medical expenses. The case went before a Special Master, who determined that the vaccine caused Griglock’s GBS and her GBS-related death. While this gave the estate standing to claim injury benefits, the Special Master determined that the claim, filed in 2009, was barred by the statute of limitations.
For injury benefit claims, the Vaccine Act requires a petition within thirty-six months of the date symptoms first occurred. Griglock’s GBS symptoms reportedly began in November 2005, meaning the statute of limitations ran until November 2008. The statute of limitations for death benefits under the Vaccine Act is two years. The estate argued that because it filed its claim for death benefits in a timely manner, it was entitled to all benefits payable under the Vaccine Act. The Court of Federal Claims disagreed and denied the petition for review of the Special Master’s decision. The estate appealed to the Federal Circuit.
The Federal Circuit reviewed the applicable statutes of limitations for Vaccine Act claims. For injury benefits, the time period is thirty-six months from the onset of symptoms. For death benefits, it is twenty-four months from the date of death. The court cited precedent that treated the two statutes of limitations as separate deadlines, concluding that a timely filing for death benefits did not excuse a failure to file a timely claim for injury benefits. Since Griglock knew of her injury in November 2005, the statute of limitations for injury benefits ran out in 2008. The estate met the statute of limitations for death benefits, however, petitioning within two years of Griglock’s May 2007 death. The court affirmed the dismissal of the injury benefits claim.
At Lebowitz & Mzhen, we help people in the Washington, DC area recover their just compensation when they have suffered injuries due to faulty or defective products and medication errors. For a free and confidential consultation, contact us today online or at (800) 654-1949.
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Photo credit: ‘3D Influenza virus’ by National Institutes of Health; originally uploaded to en.wikipedia by TimVickers (25 October 2006(2006-10-25)), transferred to Commons by Quadell using CommonsHelper. (California Department of Health Services) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.