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JURY HITS BOFA IN SOCIAL SECURITY CASE Bank of America must pay as much as $1.75 billion to its customers for taking their Social Security funds to pay for overdraft checks and other bank charges, a San Francisco jury concluded Wednesday. The jury awarded $75 million in damages to the nearly 1.1 million California customers who had Social Security direct deposit accounts with Bank of America as of 1994. In addition, the jury awarded special statutory damages of $1,000 to each class member who suffered substantial emotional or economic damage as a result of the bank’s conduct. Paul Miller filed the class action, Miller v. Bank of America, 301917, in August 1998. The bank mistakenly credited $1,800 to Miller’s account and later debited that amount, withdrawing his Social Security payments. “The law provides that Social Security funds are designed to provide a safety net and subsistence benefits are exempt from collection,” said plaintiffs lead counsel Thomas Brandi, of the Brandi Law Firm. Not only did the bank unlawfully take these funds, the jury made a separate finding that the bank “took advantage of an especially vulnerable class — the poor, elderly and disabled.” Arne Wagner, a partner at Morrison & Forester, and Joseph Genshlea, of Sacramento’s Weintraub Genshlea Chediak Sproul, represented Bank of America. Genshlea referred questions about the case to a BofA spokeswoman who could not immediately be reached for comment. — Brenda Sandburg FAMILY MUST EXHAUST REMEDIES, THEN FILE SUIT PHILADELPHIA — A couple who says their son suffers from autism because of an adverse reaction to thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative once present in vaccines for newborns, may not file suit in Pennsylvania against a group of pharmaceutical companies until they exhaust administrative remedies available through the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, the Pennsylvania Superior Court has ruled. In Cheskiewicz v. Aventis Pasteur Inc., et al., a three-judge panel upheld a Philadelphia Common Pleas Court ruling that Alan and Rita Cheskiewicz’s state court action was premature. According to the superior court opinion, the federal Vaccine Act of 1986 requires that before commencing any state or federal claims, vaccine claimants must first file a petition with the “no-fault” compensation program, a special tribunal of the Federal Court of Claims known as the Vaccine Court and located in Bethesda, Md. “The law is clear that parents were required to exhaust their Vaccine Act remedies before pursuing a state court action,” Judge Mary Jane Bowes wrote. “Parents’ failure to act in compliance with the act’s strict filing provisions precludes state court adjudication at this time.” Bowes was joined by Judges Michael Joyce and John Bender. The Cheskiewiczes filed a products liability suit in Philadelphia in May 2002, the opinion stated. Originally, they had taken their claims to federal court, but U.S. District Judge Norma Shapiro determined that no federal question was presented by their case. According to the opinion, their son A.J. was born in May 1994 and received certain vaccinations over the course of the next year. At 18 months, he began losing language and motor skills, and, in May 2001, he was diagnosed with disintegrative autism resulting from mercury toxicity. The Cheskiewiczes alleged, the opinion stated, that A.J.’s mercury poisoning was the result of exposure to thimerosal, a biocide used as a preservative in vaccines, including those administered to A.J., until the late 1990s. — The Legal Intelligencer

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