The lawyer acting for thousands of families who claim their children have been damaged by the measles mumps rubella vaccine says the case could become the largest-ever litigation in the UK.
Clinical negligence lawyer Richard Barr, a partner at Alexander Harris, began the action against five pharmaceutical companies at a case management conference in the High Court on Friday. He says more than 1,000 of the 2,000 cases he is bringing may warrant damages of millions of pounds each.
The alleged damages include autism, epilepsy and bowel disease. "The central question is did the vaccine actually cause the injuries to these children," says Barr.
"If so, the children who became autistic, who are likely to be dependent on others for the rest of their lives, will be looking at the same kind of damages as children with cerebral palsy.
"There you are looking at figures of two, three, maybe four million pounds.
"It's dangerous to add up figures because we don't know how the case is going to go, but potentially one's looking at billions not millions," he says.
The action is against SmithKline Beecham and Smith Kline & French, represented by Davies Arnold Cooper; Merck Sharp and Dohme, represented by Lovell White Durrant; The Wellcome Foundation, represented by Theodore Goddard; and Pasteur Merieux, represented by Cameron McKenna.
Claim forms have been issued in more than 100 cases.
"It's going to take a year or more to come to a full trial," says Barr. "And if the case is contested there will be weeks of complicated scientific evidence to be heard."
Barr took the legally-aided multi-party action with him from Hodge Jones & Allen when he moved to Alexander Harris two months ago. The firm is working jointly on the cases with Nottingham practice Freeth Cartwright Hunt Dickins.