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W v Sanofi Pasteur MSD, European Court of Justice, Judgment 21st June 2017 - Peter Todd, Hodge Jones & Allen

08/09/17. This judgment of the ECJ recently caused an outcry in certain sections of the media – it was claimed the ECJ had “opened the floodgates for spurious vaccination claims”. But what is the legal significance of this decision?

A preliminary ruling was sought from the ECJ on the interpretation of the EU Product Liability Directive in proceedings in which damages was sought for an alleged adverse reaction to a vaccine.

The facts

W had been given 3 doses of Sanofi’s hepatitis B vaccine between December 1998 and July 1999. Shortly after these, W’s health deteriorated, he became incapacitated and needed substantial care. He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and died on 30th October 2011. An action was brought by his family after his death seeking damages on the basis the vaccine was the cause of his illness and death. Causation was vigorously disputed. The referring court said that the scientific evidence neither proved, nor ruled out a causal link.

W’s family intended to rely on domestic French law that...

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