Compensating the Victims of Failure to Vaccinate: What are the Options?
Dorit Rubinstein Reiss
University of California Hastings College of the Law
July 22, 2013
Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy, Vol. 23, No. 3, 2014
UC Hastings Research Paper No. 61
This article asks whether parents who choose not to vaccinate their child should be liable if that child, at higher risk of infectious disease than vaccinated children, transmits a vaccine-preventable diseases to another. The article argues that a tort remedy in this situation is both desirable and appropriate. It is desirable to assure compensation to the injured child and the family, who should not have to face the insult of financial ruin on top of the injury from the disease. It is also appropriate to require that a family that chooses not to vaccinate a child fully internalize the costs of that decision, and not pass them on to others.
The suggests that there should be a duty to act in this situation, since the non-vaccinating parents do create a risk. Even if this is seen as a classic situation of nonfeasance there are policy reasons to create an exception to the usual rule that there is no duty to act. As an alternative, it suggests adopting a statutory duty to act.
It suggests that legal exemptions from school immunization requirements are not a barrier to liability, since the considerations behind those exemptions are separate from tort liability. It addresses the problem of demonstrating causation, and suggests in which types of cases showing causation would be possible, and when proximate cause can be extended from an index case to subsequent cases. Finally, it addresses some of the potential counter arguments.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 51
Keywords: Torts, vaccines
JEL Classification: K13, I18
Date posted: August 30, 2013 ; Last revised: September 12, 2013