Can You Sue Someone for Not Vaccinating their Child? Very Possibly

The anti-vaccination movement is growing, and with it the spread of diseases like measles. That has some people asking whether parents who choose not to vaccinate can be sued for negligence if their children get sick and spread the disease to someone else. The answer is still unclear, but many legal experts say that they can.

Measles Is One Example of the Overall Problem

Cases of measles have been rising in the last few years as more parents have opted out of giving their children the vaccine against the disease. Many opting against the vaccine are reacting to now discredited misinformation that linked autism to the measles vaccine. Because their beliefs lack medical credibility, parents are obtaining state waivers that allow them to leave their children unvaccinated due to the family's personal beliefs alone.

Many of those getting sick are children whose parents have chosen not to vaccinate them. However, some victims are either still too young to be vaccinated or are adults whose childhood vaccines didn't take. Complications from the disease can cause deafness, brain damage and death. And, someone with measles has a 90% chance of passing the disease to someone else.

Those who advocate imposing civil penalties against parents whose unvaccinated children infect other people with measles or other diseases say that exposing people to vaccine-preventable diseases is a negligent action when there's no medical basis for not getting the vaccine.

Negligence And Preventable Diseases

Generally speaking, you have a duty to take "reasonable care" that you don't injure other people. What's defined as reasonable varies from situation to situation, but reasonable behavior isn't just based on what you know—it's also based on what you should know.

That means that even if someone is entirely ignorant of a fact that led to the injury, he or she can still be held accountable for negligence if the judge or jury decides that a reasonable person would have known what he or she was doing was dangerous. Where the measles vaccine is involved, many people feel that those who refuse to vaccinate their children based on their faith in a discredited medical study by a doctor who has since lost his license to practice medicine are not acting reasonably.

Additionally, parents who refuse to vaccinate their children for non-medical reasons are essentially putting everyone at risk—especially those who are medically vulnerable for some reason (due to age, for example). While the vaccines aren't 100% effective, "community (or herd) immunity" controls outbreaks and protects the most vulnerable—but only when enough of the community is immunized.

In other words, each unvaccinated individual causes exponentially greater and greater risks to other individuals because the community immunity fails.

The Law Is Far from Clear—But it Will Eventually Be Tested

Keep in mind that there's no clear legal rulings in existence yet, but recent outbreaks of measles in the news makes it clear that the situation is escalating. Grieving parents and other family members are likely to seek remedies through the civil courts eventually, in the form of personal injury lawsuits.

If you (or your child) has contracted measles or another infectious disease through what you believe are the negligent actions of another, talk to an attorney about the situation. In some cases, there's existing case law that makes recovery for your damages very possible. In other cases, such as with measles, the legal waters may not be as clear. A law firm such as Mooney and Associates LLC can help you evaluate your claim and decide on a course of action for the future.