June 16, 2009
A New York jury has concluded that pharmaceutical company Lederle Laboratories was responsible for the injury to a man who contracted polio from a vaccine 30 years ago, and ordered it to pay him $22.5 million.
Dominick Tenuto became infected with polio in 1979, shortly after his daughter received a vaccine made by Lederle from a live polio virus. Tenuto alleged that he had been exposed to the live virus while changing his daughter’s diaper.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a total of 144 people in the United States became infected with polio from live vaccines between 1980 and 1998. While the majority of these were the vaccine recipients themselves, the number includes 51 who contracted the disease upon contact with a vaccinated individual.
Tenuto became paralyzed from the disease and ended up spending months in intensive care, breathing through a hospital ventilator. Even after two years of rehabilitative therapy, he remained partially paralyzed and to this day cannot get around without a wheelchair. Because the Wall Street office where he worked was not wheelchair accessible, Tenuto lost his job. In 1981, he filed a lawsuit against Lederle.
Shortly before the verdict came down, Lederle offered Tenuto a $10 million settlement agreement, which he rejected upon the advice of his lawyers.
“You need the money,” lead counsel Benedict Morelli told him, “but before that, you need vindication.”
After one day of deliberation, the jury ruled that Lederle had not only made a vaccine that was unreasonably dangerous, but that it had also failed to sufficiently warn doctors about the vaccine’s risk. It ordered the company to pay Tenuto $5 million for medical and rehabilitation expenses and lost earnings, and $17.5 million for past and future pain and suffering.
Lawyer Martin Edelman, who has been working on the case for his entire legal career, said that he was “relieved” at the verdict. Tenuto’s lawyers had advanced him $500,000 worth of work over the course of the case.
The 30-year saga may not be over, however. Lederle has announced plans to appeal.