Case involving narcolepsy after vaccine claims is settled; Support group 'disappointed' State fought case

Case involving narcolepsy after vaccine claims is settled; Support group 'disappointed' State fought case
Aoife Bennett at a previous hearing in 2018.

A 26-year-old woman who had sued claiming she developed narcolepsy after she got the Pandemrix swine flu vaccine has settled her High Court action.

Aoife Bennett’s landmark action settled after 21 days of hearings.

As part of the settlement, the student teacher will also have her huge legal costs bill, believed to run in to millions of euro, paid.

The settlement, the details of which remain confidential is without an admission of liability.

In the High Court today, Mr Justice Michael McGrath was told by Ms Bennett’s counsel Denis McCullough SC the case had been settled. The costs of the action are against the Minister for Health and the HSE only.

Counsel said that to the extent that any allegation of lack of bona fides may have been made against any of the defendants, Ms Bennett confirmed that it was being withdrawn.

Ms Bennett’s action was regarded as a test case for as many as 100 other cases relating to the swine flu vaccine.

Aoife Bennett was only 16 years old when she got the Pandemrix vaccine as part of a mass vaccination programme as the country braced itself for a threatened human swine flu pandemic 10 years ago.

In a statement afterwards Aoife’s parents, Pat and Mary Bennett paid tribute to their daughter for her bravery in taking the landmark case.

Aoife’s parents, Pat and Mary Bennett at a previous court hearing.
Aoife’s parents, Pat and Mary Bennett at a previous court hearing.

“It was an extremely difficult task for a 26-year-old while at the same time coping with having a life-long illness,” they said in a statement.

Ms Bennett, Lakelands, Nass, Co Kildare, a third-level student had sued the Minister for Health, the HSE, the vaccine producer Glaxosmithkline Biologicals S.A. and Health Products Regulatory Authority.

In the proceedings, it was claimed HSE brochures on the vaccine had the effect of allegedly misleading those who read them as to the safety of the Pandemrix vaccine and the alleged risk associated with its use. It was claimed the brochures contained advice which was not consistent with the actual facts.

It was further claimed the Health Minister and HSE ought to have known those who read the brochures were likely to come to an alleged erroneous conclusion as to the safety of Pandemrix vaccine and whether it had been adequately tested at all on children and adolescents prior to its release to the public.

Glaxosmithkline, it was claimed, demanded an indemnity from liability from the State before it would agree to supply the vaccine.

The Health Products Regulation Authority, it was alleged, was well aware there was an alternative vaccine which had more clinical data available in relation to its safety and efficacy.

All the defendants denied the claims and denied liability.

Noting the settlement, Mr Justice McGrath congratulated the parties and their legal teams. He said Aoife Bennett and her family are very decent people and he was very pleased to see a resolution to what was complex litigation.

During the hearing, Aoife Bennett broke down in the witness box of the High Court as she told how she thought it was her responsibility to get the vaccine as the country faced a threatened swine flu pandemic in December 2009.

On Christmas Day 2009, she said she had to drag herself downstairs for Christmas lunch. "I was absolutely exhausted. Before this I was very energetic and active," she said.

She said she spent a lot of the Christmas holidays in bed and found it very difficult because she was “ very very tired”.

When narcolepsy was diagnosed in 2011, she said she had never heard of it before.

Aoife, who gave evidence from a special comfortable chair snoozed before the judge came out in the bench and she was sworn in to give evidence. She also had to take breaks during her testimony.

After the action as settled, a group that supports those with narcolepsy has expressed disappointment that the State fought Ms Bennett's case in court.

“We thank Aoife and the Bennett family for taking the first landmark case,” said Tadgh Kennedy of Sufferers Of Unique Narcolepsy Disorder (Sound).

“However, we are disappointed that the State saw fit to fight the case in court.

“Approximately 100 other children and young adults must now await the outcome of their own legal cases, which the State insists must be taken on an individual basis.

“The State should ensure that this is not a long drawn-out legal process, causing further hardship.

“From the start, the State’s response to what transpired has been painfully slow, and this remains a difficult and protracted process for the families involved.

“Sound wants the State to fulfil the duty of care it is morally bound to provide to children and young adults who now have to move through life with Narcolepsy.

“The cost to the State of this action alone can be measured in millions.”

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