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Supreme Court rules vaccine makers protected from lawsuits

The couple then sued under Pennsylvania tort law. The company had the case moved to federal court, and judges have consistently ruled that the suit cannot proceed, because federal law prohibits claims against "design defects" in vaccines.

The justices at oral argument debated ambiguous wording in the federal law. It says that no vaccine maker can be held liable for death or injuries arising from "side effects that were unavoidable even though the vaccine was properly prepared and was accompanied by proper directions and warnings."

Scalia said the word "unavoidable" would be meaningless "if a manufacturer could be held liable for failure to use a different design."

Sotomayor read the language to mean the opposite, and said "text, structure and legislative history compel the conclusion that Congress intended to leave the courthouse doors open for children who have suffered severe injuries from defectively designed vaccines."

Consumer groups and others had supported the Bruesewitzes, but the American Academy of Pediatrics applauded the decision.

"Today's Supreme Court decision protects children by strengthening our national immunization system and ensuring that vaccines will continue to prevent the spread of infectious diseases in this country," AAP President O. Marion Burton said in a statement.

The case is Bruesewitz v. Wyeth.

In other action, the court decided not to revisit its 2005 ruling that struck the display of the Ten Commandments in two Kentucky courthouses.

Lower courts had continued to bar McCreary and Pulaski counties from posting the commandments even though each changed the display to include other religious and historic documents. The court did not comment on why it was not taking the case.

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