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Vaccine Law

Physician's Duty to Warn of Possible Vaccine Injuries - Tenuto v. Lederle Laboratories, Div. of American Cyanamid Co., 90 N.Y.2d 606, 687 N.E.2d 1300, 665 N.Y.S.2d 17 (N.Y. 1997)

Defendant Lederle Laboratories manufactured "Orimune", which consisted of live but weakened strains of the polio virus. Defendant Dr. Schwartz administered the oral vaccine to plaintiff's five-month-old daughter. Plaintiff had elective surgery, then cared for his daughter after her immunization. He was exposed to the polio viruses she shed. Within thirty days of the infant's vaccination, Mr. Tenuto was diagnosed with paralytic poliomyelitis, which rendered him a permanent paraplegic.

Plaintiffs alleged defendant Schwartz owed them a duty of care to warn them of their personal health risks from the oral vaccination of their daughter and to advise them of precautions to avoid the risks, including asking whether Mr. Tenuto had been immunized against polio. Defendant Schwartz moved to dismiss on the ground that plaintiffs were not his patients.

The Supreme Court granted the motion to dismiss and the Appellate Division affirmed.

The Court of Appeals reversed finding that a duty of reasonable care extended to plaintiffs despite the absence of a direct doctor/patient treatment relationship between them and Dr. Schwartz. The court relied on Eiseman v. State, 70 N.Y.2d 175, 187, which recognized that common morality, logic and social policy could permit a limited extension of the duty of care of a physician beyond the immediate patient under treatment. The court found a special relationship involving interconnections of reliance directly between plaintiffs and Dr. Schwartz and indirectly from their status as primary caretakers of his infant patient.

The court concluded by stating that if Dr. Schwartz had no responsibility to pass on warnings regarding the dangers of the oral vaccine, then the duty of the manufacturer to inform doctors of such risks would be meaningless.

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