the claimed injury. Funds for awards to prospective petitioners are taken from the compensation trust fund supported by an excise tax on vaccines. (As of January 1, 1993, this tax had not been reauthorized by the Congress.)
If appropriations are insufficient to permit payment of any award, the petitioner is exempt from the prohibition against bringing a civil lawsuit. There is also a cap of 3,500 on the number of retrospective petitioners who may be compensated under the program. A total of 4,069 pre-1988 claims were filed, but only 1,290 of these had been adjudicated by February 1993. A total of 641 claimants had been awarded a total of $297.2 million. The number of post-1988 vaccine injury cases in the system has continued to increase, from only I in 1989, to 31 in 1990, 119 in 1991, and 191 in 1992. As of February 1993, 64 post-1988 claimants had been awarded a total of $26.5 million. Of the 1,405 retrospective and prospective claims that had been adjudicated by February 1993, the majority were dismissed (790 claims), and 156 were deemed not compensable (National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, 1993).
Compensation amounts are calculated by taking into account nonreimbursable medical and related expenses, lost earnings, and pain and suffering. In cases of death, a fixed sum of $250,000 is awarded. The average award for a pre-1988 case is $1 million (National Vaccine Injury and Compensation Program, 1993). Since the program is an alternative, rather than an exclusive, source of compensation, each petitioner has the option to reject the decision made on the petition. However, petitioners in prospective cases are not allowed to begin a lawsuit until they have filed a claim with the program, received a final judgment, and rejected it in favor of litigation (retrospective petitioners had the option of staying with their lawsuit or dropping it in order to file a claim with the program).
Petitioners have two levels of appeal if they are not satisfied with the special master's decision. They can request that the U.S. Claims Court review the decision; if, after this is done, the petitioner is still not satisfied, he/she may appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals.
For the NVICP to serve as an effective option to litigation, the compensation process must work quickly. In order to expedite matters, the program does not involve itself with causation, one of the most costly and time-consuming components of a tort action for personal injury. Things have not moved nearly as rapidly as was hoped, however. For retrospective cases filed after December 1989, decisions were to have been made within 240 days; because of heavy case loads, Congress extended this "suspension time" to 780 days. For post-1988 cases, the processing time is approximately