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President Vetoes Bill To Allow Suit

September 25, 1986

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Reagan vetoed a bill Thursday that would have cleared the way for a lawsuit by a woman who contends she became paralyzed because of a yellow fever inoculation she received at a U.S. Public Health Service clinic 23 years ago.

The president said in his veto message that it would set a bad precedent to allow Paulette Mendes-Silva to file suit in U.S. District Court in Washington despite her failure to meet procedural requirements for doing so.

″Moreover, available medical evidence contradicts her assertion that the government was responsible for her disability,″ he said.

Ms. Mendes-Silva was inoculated on March 12, 1963, as she prepared for a trip to India as an interpreter, under contract to the State Department, for an international cotton conference. A week later, she was hospitalized with encephalitis.

She is unable to walk without assistance and cannot swallow or cough properly because of paralysis of the throat, according to records of her case. She contends the Public Health Service was negligent because the doctor inoculating her failed to ask whether she had received another inoculation recently. She had been inoculated for smallpox earlier in the day at a private clinic in Arlington, Va.

Rep. Howard L. Berman, D-Calif., sponsored legislation to permit her to pursue her case in federal court here despite a requirement that she have first exhausted administrative remedies and that she file her suit within two years of doing so.

Ms. Mendes Silva said government officials had discouraged her from pursuing the case and lawyers she consulted had told her they did not think a suit against the government could be successful. The departments of State, Justice and Health and Human Services said they had no record that she had tried to pursue the case.

The government said records showed no cases of encephalitis arising from yellow fever inoculations, but indicated that people getting smallpox inoculations do run a risk, as high as one in 63 cases, of getting the disease.

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