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Exceptional
This work has reached the exceptional level
A case of liability becomes almost impossible to pursue.
The Deadline by BethShelby
 Category:  Biographical Non-Fiction
  Posted: October 14, 2013      Views: 224

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BETHSHELBY 
BethShelby is retired from the printing and commercial art field. She is married and has four children and three grandchildren. She and her husband presently live in Tennessee.

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We had to make the deadline. There was $250,000 riding on us making it, but we didn't know that in the beginning. Back then, we didn't even know there was a deadline. When I first heard the drug company had agreed to pay compensation to those who had lost children as a result of the DPT vaccine, there was no mention of the amount of money involved. The information was sent to me as a newspaper clipping from a Houston paper. My cousin mailed it to my mother, and she forwarded it on to me. There was a small paragraph with no details, and since I didn't really know how to follow up, the clipping lay on my desk for a few months.

"Beth, did you ever find out about the DPT article I mailed to you?" my mom asked. "Edith knew about your baby's death, and she was nice enough to send it. At least, you could write and thank her."

"Mom, it's been thirty-five years since Susan died. No one would pay us anything now. We could have certainly used some extra money when we were struggling to raise our four other children, but now it's too late for that. Besides, you know Dr. Murphy never admitted that the injection was the reason she died."

"Well, you know it was the reason. It had to be that, because she was fine before she got the shot. And how about those other babies who were his patients and died after having it? The article said it didn't matter how long it had been, as long as you'd never received any compensation in the past."

Our first child was two-months old when she got the shot and became sick about an hour afterward. She was in the hospital at the time of her death, two days later. A friend, with whom I'd finished high school, and also a co-worker, both lost their babies hours after getting the shot. Dr. Murphy listed both of those deaths as SIDS or Crib Death because they were found dead later that day in their cribs. He refused to admit Susan's death was due to the injection, but he was perfectly willing to wait about giving our other children the shot until they were at least a year old.

After talking to Mom, I called my cousin and thanked her for sending the article. I got an address for the newspaper from her. When I contacted the paper and asked for details about the article, I got no response. I'd tried. As far as I was concerned, this ended the matter.

A few months later, I was tuned into a talk show at work when a caller brought up the subject. He asked if anyone knew how to go about filing a claim. The host said he thought the proper way would be to contact the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta. This time the dollar amount of the compensation was mentioned. Okay, this makes it more interesting. We could find a use for that money. Maybe this thing is worth pursuing after all.

I wrote a letter to the Center for Disease Control and received an ten-inch high box filled with forms and information. It took three months to go through all the material, only to realize that none of it applied to compensation for the DPT vaccine. Forget it, I thought, this is ridiculous. There is no way the drug company is going to make it easy for anyone to find them liable.

That July, Mother suffered a stroke and died. I was forced to quit my job and take my invalid father into our home. My life became a lot more complicated, since he required twenty-four hour care. If Evan and I got out at all, we had to leave him with a sitter.

Then one evening, there was short piece on the CBS National News mentioning the DPT compensation. It was the whooping cough portion of the vaccine, which was being blamed for infant deaths. This time there was a deadline mentioned for filing, and it was only three months away. According to the report, the papers had to be filed through a lawyer. We'd never used a lawyer for anything other than buying a house. My husband wasn't inclined to start using one now.

Since Evan was retired and I was no longer working, $250,000 seemed a small fortune. We could certainly find a use for the money. Legal fees were to be paid separately by the drug company and wouldn't come out of the recipient's compensation. Since the money was a death benefit, it would not be subject to taxes.

"I'm not getting involved," my husband told me. "If you want to see what you can find out, you're on your own."

I made an appointment with a downtown lawyer's office and told my story to a legal aide with the firm. She checked around and got back to me.

"I'm sorry but no lawyers in the city are certified to deal with this. It is very complicated, and I think it's too late to start. There are only two lawyers in the state who are handling those cases. The nearest one to you is in Knoxville. I'll give you his name and phone number, and you can check with him. From those I've talked with, it sounds like it would take at least a year to work up a case."

I called the lawyer immediately, and at first, he didn't seem interested. When I told him there had been an autopsy on Susan, he became excited. "You need to come see us right away. I think it's probably too late, but if you can get up here tomorrow, we'll give it a try."

I talked Evan into going with me, and we made the three-hour trip. The lawyer gave us a list of things we'd have to get. We needed hospital records, pediatrician records, a copy of the autopsy, and a letter from the attending physician. I also would have to write a detailed report of everything that happened concerning her death.

The next day, I called the hospital in Mississippi where we'd lived at the time. The records were no longer on file at the clinic or the hospital, but they did promise to mail me a copy of the autopsy, if I'd request it in writing and send the required payment.

I spoke to Dr. Murphy, and he remembered Susan, but once again, he refused to admit that the injection was the cause of her death. Later, he mailed me a letter saying there was no indication her death was related to the DPT injection. It wasn't in his best interest to admit there was a problem with the vaccine. With so many deaths near the same time period, he was afraid of being held personally liable. No doctor wanted to discourage parents from giving the vaccine to their babies. Some diseases were making a comeback due to the recent publicity.

The autopsy report arrived from Mississippi, and we were in for a shock. Susan's cause of death was listed as encephalitis. Years before when I'd called Dr. Murphy for the autopsy results, he said, "I'm sorry but the results were inconclusive. Apparently, she died of some rare form of pneumonia which lab results are unable to detect." He had lied to me. The lawyer had told me that babies who died as a result of the vaccine were shown to have encephalitis.

By the time we received the autopsy report, it was almost too late. We made another trip to give the lawyer my written report and the copy of the autopsy. Since the autopsy showed all of the classic signs of children who had died due to receiving the vaccine, it was encouraging. The fact that we were unable to obtain all of the required information was the big drawback. The lawyer said he'd file what we had, but if it came to a hearing, the doctor would be required to testify. He didn't see much hope in view of Dr. Murphy's attitude.

The deadline was now only hours away. The suit had to be filed in Washington by midnight. The lawyer called us the next day to tell us he'd sent the paperwork by courier. The material was clocked in at eleven-thirty p.m., before the twelve o'clock deadline. He also told us ours was the last case filed, and there was a cap of 3,500 cases which would be considered for a hearing in court. Now, we would just have to wait.

Eight months later, our lawyer called to let us know that hearings were starting on all the cases which had met the deadline. He said he would keep us informed. In the meantime, he tried to contact Dr. Murphy and learned that he had died suddenly of a heart attack. We heard nothing more and actually forgot about the matter for years. It would be five long years before we heard from the lawyer again.

Then one day, we got the phone call. Our case had won. The next day, the lawyer made the three-hour trip to bring us the cashier's check in person. He was as excited as we were, because his compensation was the same as ours, $250,000.

The looming deadline had threatened to make all our efforts invalid. In this case, we made it with only thirty minutes to spare. It was a race against time, but in the end, it was a race well worth pursuing.

This Sentence Starts The Story contest entry

Recognized

Author Notes
Compensation payments from NVICP have averaged $782,136 per successful claim through 2011, with an additional $113 million dispersed to pay attorney fees and legal costs (the act awards attorney fees and costs for unsuccessful claims provided that the litigants bring their claims in good faith and upon a reasonable basis, as well as for successful claims). Compensation for a death resulting from vaccination is capped at $250,000. As of December 1, 2011, the program had awarded $2.35 billion in 2,810 separate claims, including compensation for 390 deaths.
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

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