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The Omnibus Autism Proceeding began in 2002 in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims after parents of Autistic children began filing petitions for compensation with the Secretary of Health and Human Services under the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program in 2001. Those parents alleged that their children developed the neurodevelopmental disorder of autism because of childhood vaccinations. In particular, the parents alleged that the Measles-Mumps-Rubella vaccinations, thimerosal ingredient contained in vaccinations, or a combination of those two contributed to the onset of autism. Overall, 5,000 families with autistic children filed for compensation but the same three federal judges have ruled twice that thimerosal, the active ingredient in vaccinations, does not cause autism based on three test cases that showed the strongest evidence.

However, the family of Hannah Poling recently became the first to win a court award after alleging that the vaccinations that Hannah received as an infant resulted in her autism. According to Hannah’s parents, the now nine-year-old was a happy, normal, and precocious child until she received a slew of vaccinations when she was 18 months old. In 2000 Hannah received nine vaccinations total to protect her against measles, mumps, rubella, polio, varicella, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, and Haemophilus influenzae. As a result, her health declined rapidly and the young child refused to eat, experienced high fevers, didn’t respond when spoken to, and threw screaming fits. Hannah’s parents filed their lawsuit against the government along with the thousands of other concerned parents in 2002. Hannah’s case was settled before trial but it has taken more than two years for both sides to agree on how much Hannah will be compensated for her injuries.

According to their statement, the government acknowleged Hannah’s injuries and admitted that the vaccinations she received aggravated an unknown mitochondrial disorder. However, they maintained their previous position that the vaccinations did not "cause" Hannah’s autism, but rather "resulted" in her autism because of the exacerbating effects on her mitochondrial condition. It is unknown how many other children have unknown mitochondrial conditions that also could have been affected by vaccinations. Approximately 4,800 other autism-vaccination cases are awaiting disposition in federal vaccine court. While the government refuses to admit to an autism-vaccination link, TIME magazine raised a relevant point in their comment on the Poling case:

…(T)here’s no denying that the court’s decision to award damages to the Poling family puts a chink — a question mark — in what had been an unqualified defense of vaccine safety with regard to autism. If Hannah Poling had an underlying condition that made her vulnerable to being harmed by vaccines, it stands to reason that other children might also have such vulnerabilities."

Hannah received $1.5 million in court awards for her life care, pain and suffering, and lost earnings plus an additional $500,000 per year to pay for her lifetime care.


  1. Gravatar for FreeSpeaker

    First, Hannah Poling does not have autism. If you carefully read the award, you will see the terminology "features of autism." This is not the same thing, although the anti-vaccinationists and their lawyers would like you to believe so.

    Second. This is not the first award for autism. The CBS reporter, Sharyl Atkinsson is a well known apologist for the anti-vaccination movement. If you read her blog, not news article, you will see links to articel she has previously written where she acknowledge previous awards. This is sloppy journalism 101 and lawyers should check their sources more carefully.

    Third, this is not a court award to the Polings. It is a concession by the government, and is not a precedent. Hannah Poling has a rare mitochondrial condition. READ THE AWARD DOCUMENT.

    Fourth, there is a new study, out today, which blows the thimerosal causes autism out of the water. Only a fool would take this case to court where there is no guarantee of a fee, like in the 'vaccine court'.

  2. Gravatar for Liz Ditz
    Liz Ditz

    The Poling case, and the lack of connection to autism in her case, was extensively discussed years ago.

    Representing the Poling decision as related to autism is just lazy journalism.

    See for example

    However, the payment does not acknowledge a vaccine-autism link. The payment was made for a mitochondrial disorder and encephalopathy which fall under a category of so-called “Table” injuries for which parents do not need to show proof that the vaccine aggravated the condition as long as it appeared within a certain amount of time after vaccination. The VICP, which was established in 1988 (US Court of Federal Claims), has made thousands of such payments since its establishment. The same court found no compelling evidence of a link between vaccination and autism in a ruling last year, which was upheld in a federal appeals court on the same day as the Poling payout decision, (27 August 2010, Associated Press).

    If we as a people are going to compensate those injured by vaccines, as we should, we should compensate highly. We can not fully compensate a person or a family for injury.

    Exhaustive coverage from

    A Not-So-Hidden History · 2008-03-11 17:45

    The Commerce in Causation · 2008-03-24 18:30

    "The Appalling Poling Saga" · 2008-10-03 13:00

    Case history: it determined that the child had: “encephalopathy progressed to persistent loss of previously acquired language, eye contact, and relatedness.” The child regressed and developed symptoms similar to those of autism spectrum disorder. However, the child does not have autism – he has a regressive neurological disorder that includes blood and muscle abnormalities not seen in autism, and any clinical resemblance to autism is not a reflection of a common cause.

    He refers again to the Hannah Poling case, a girl with a mitochondrial disorder who developed a neurodegenerative disorder with “features of autism” after getting a fever from vaccines. This special case – which is not a case of autism being caused by toxins in vaccines – says nothing about the broader vaccine-autism debate. The case was settled (not judged in Poling’s favor, but settled) because both sides realized it was a special case that could not be extrapolated to other vaccine-autism cases.

    Dr. Poling is saying that his daughter’s case is not unique – that it is typical and therefore is does say something about a broader vaccine-autism connection. Hannah Poling’s history has many features that are not typical of autism – like a history of otitis media with frequent fevers, seizures, and what sounds like a rare encephalitis that probably did result from vaccines. Even if we put her mitochondrial mutation aside – this is not a typical case of autism.

    Dr. Poling also makes specific claims about the association of autism and mitochondria – which is not surprising as this is now one of the favored hypotheses of the anti-vaccine crowd, now that their mercury hypothesis has failed. He does not reference his “5-20%” figure for autistic children with mitochondrial dysfunction. The highest figure I could find was 7.2%. I admit I am not familiar enough with this literature to know for sure if there is other published data showing it is more prevalent, but reviews of the literature give figures more in the 5% range.

    Finally, if you're still not convinced and think that this concession means that the government is really admitting that vaccines cause autism, ask yourself this simple question: If this case conceded by the government is such a slam-dunk piece of evidence that mercury in vaccines or vaccines themselves cause autism, why on earth did the plaintiff's allow it to be dropped from the Autism Omnibus and settled? If, as Kirby implies and Handley and Heckenlively outright state, this case is slam-dunk, irrefutable evidence that vaccines cause autism so strong that the government couldn't fight it, then keeping it in the Autism Omnibus as a test case would have allowed it to serve as a precedent that would provide a significant proportion, if not all, of the plaintiffs of the nearly 5,000 cases to follow a much better chance of obtaining compensatio? If this case is so damning, as Kirby et al imply that it is, would dropping it from the Autism Omnibus make any sense?

  3. Gravatar for David Mittleman
    David Mittleman

    Free Speaker and Liz Ditz:

    Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. I appreciate when commenters take the time to share their viewpoints. That being said, I find it interesting that you both pointed out that Hannah only had "autism-like" symptoms and didn't actually "have" autism. It is my understanding that even when a child is "diagnosed" with autism, the diagnostic process is never clear-cut and definitive. In fact, there is no medical test per se that can give a 100% positive diagnosis. Instead, medical professionals must rely upon interviews with a child, as well as their own observations and evaluations. In addition, autism diagnoses can change over time.

    I also find it difficult to believe that this is merely a government concession. While it may be at this time, the point that I was trying to make in this blog is that it will be more difficult for the government to argue against a vaccination-autism link in entirety. What I found interesting about the government's comments in regards to the Poling case is that they merely minced words--saying "resulted in" instead of "caused" isn't much of a difference in my opinion. Rather, they seem to be trying to save will be interesting to see how the autism cases continue to play out over the coming years.

    Thanks again,

    David Mittleman

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