There has been much debate with charges and counter-charges over the linkage between autism and mercury (thimerosal) that was used as a preservative in various vaccines given to children. Up until now the cases have been routed to the special Federal Court of Claims under the 1986 National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act. This court has been dubbed the "vaccine court" and it issues decisions without a jury on a no-fault basis, and many believe that the awards are lower than would be awarded in court in a case tried before a jury.
In March 2006, the Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit based in New Orleans issued a ground-breaking decision in the case Holder v. Abbott Labs. [ Download Holder_v. Abbott Labs.pdf ]. This case for the first time opens the doors of federal court to jury trials to hear parents' cases alleging that mercury/thimerosal caused their child's autism.
Leave it to the fertile mind of a lawyers to find the way into court bypassing the restrictions of the "vaccine court." The argument is wonderfully simple. The suit centers on a preservative that is not the vaccine itself and was not even a needed component of the vaccine so it was not covered by the Vaccine Injury Act of 1986. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and sent the case back to the federal court in Mississippi for jury trial.
The case is far from a certainty as the plaintiffs still have to prove that the mercury/thimerosal caused the child's autism; this argument has strong proponents and opponents each armed with studies and research. Even if this suit fails it is still an important round one in what promises to be the beginning of many such cases. The tobacco cases went on for years with the defendants winning every case until the fairly recent past. At the very least the arguments and science that link autism and mercury/thimerosal will finally get a full hearing before a jury and a court with powers to order damages that actually compensate the full measure of harm.