There are many objectives for the Lab’s Vaccine/Injury Project (“V/IP”), but the major ones include:
- First, to investigate the logical structure of the statutory rule system, case law and evidence-assessment patterns under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (“VICP”) in the United States;
- Second, to use our logic investigation and state-of-the-art technology to create useful tools that can increase the efficiency of the VICP decision-making process;
- Third, to create methods for training legal decision-makers and legal practitioners, as well as researchers and students, in the use of logic skills; and
- Fourth, to demonstrate the feasibility of a scalable, team approach in applying the default-logic framework to legal decisions generally.
The first objective (investigating logical structure) has several parts. The Lab has modeled the statutory rule system as a rule tree for the Vaccine Act, and uses that structure as a software template for modeling the reasoning of individual compensation decisions. We have expanded that statutory tree by adding the rules adopted by judicial decisions, such as the causation-in-fact rule adopted in Althen v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 418 F.3d 1274 (Fed.Cir. 2005). We also use the default-logic framework to model the reasoning from evidence to findings of fact in particular decisions, such as Casey v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, No. 97-612V (Court of Federal Claims, Office of Special Masters; Dec. 12, 2005). We have selected for our study sample those decisions that apply the causation-in-fact rule of Althen to the evidence in subsequent cases.
The second objective (creating useful tools) is more open-ended. We put our logical analyses together with state-of-the-art technology to invent useful tools for both practice and education. For example, the logical construct of a “rule tree,” together with software developed by Apprentice Systems, Inc., enables us to make software templates to use in conjunction with Legal Apprentice™ software, in order to model the evidence assessment in particular cases. The Legal Apprentice software, in turn, allows us to generate Legal Apprentice files that contain many useful elements, such as an interactive reasoning model and an HTML file of the reasoning in the decision, which integrates the statutory rules, case law, and evidence assessment (see, for example, the Lab’s HTML file for the reasoning in the Casey decision).
Although this growing library of software rule trees and reasoning models is useful in itself, it also provides the foundation and building blocks for more powerful tools. Researchers in the Lab study the case-specific reasoning that they model, and then publish comments on patterns, trends or hypotheses through the use of blog posts (see, for example, the blog post on a particular pattern for proving Prong 1 of the Althen causation test – whether the vaccine can cause the type of injury alleged in the petition). Lab researchers are on the lookout for trends in the decisions, or correlations among various logical elements. We can then distribute these insights, which begin as empirical observations and hypotheses and end as tested theories, in both printed form (traditional articles) and software components (ready-made rule sub-trees). The software, together with the knowledge modules developed by the Lab, will enable decision-makers and practitioners to improve their organization of evidence, their reasoning and arguments, and their assessments of settlement value – thus improving the efficiency of the decision-making process.
The third objective (creating training methods) follows closely on the second. The same tools that we develop in the Lab to orient and train new researchers become tools for acquiring logic skills generally. In order to make our logical analysis a reliable and valid instrument of empirical research, we have to develop training programs and protocols to use in our research teams. These same programs and protocols can be used in judicial workshops, in law-office training programs, in continuing legal education sessions, and in regular law school courses. Moreover, because the Lab’s work is technology-based, much of this training can be accomplished at a distance, and with flexibility as to time.
The fourth objective (achieving a scalable team approach) derives from the goal of creating a legal research laboratory on the scientific model. By developing the management structures needed to achieve reliable and valid logical modeling, to develop and test hypotheses about reasoning patterns, and to develop new and efficient tools using state-of-the-art technology, the Lab also demonstrates the feasibility of conducting important research through a scalable, team approach. This means that we can add additional researchers, and expand the scope and number of our projects, without loss of quality control. We can create new projects like our Vaccine/Injury Project in other areas of law (whether judicial or administrative), and in other legal systems. We can create new collaborative projects with other research laboratories, such as our Comparative Medical Accident Liability Project with the LIDER Lab of the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna in Pisa, Italy. This approach to legal research is not dependent entirely on the isolated insights of individual scholars.
In sum, the Lab’s V/IP study has the goal of demonstrating that law schools can be become true knowledge centers for society, in which teams of researchers perform analyses and create tools that are immediately useful in legal practice and societal decision-making.