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Wrongful Birth and Wrongful Life Lawsuits

Most birth injury lawsuits result from medical malpractice. Birth injury medical malpractice cases claim that the medical care failed to meet the appropriate standard of care. They claim that the defendant's negligence caused personal injury.

Wrongful birth and wrongful life lawsuits are different. These claims relate to a medical professional failing to detect a severe birth defect or condition. This article explains wrongful birth and wrongful life lawsuits and possible damages a plaintiff may recover.

Wrongful Birth Lawsuits

Obstetricians and other medical professionals owe a duty to patients. During pregnancy, they must inform their patients about known risks or complications. Failing to do so exposes healthcare professionals to liability for medical malpractice.

In a wrongful birth action, the parent sues a healthcare provider or hospital. They claim the defendant misdiagnosed the fetus's medical condition.

Plaintiffs in a wrongful birth cause of action also generally base their claim on one of the following:

  • A medical professional provided negligent genetic counseling, or
  • Prenatal testing was misleading on the likelihood of the fetus developing abnormally

As a result, the infant was born with major congenital defects or a genetic disorder. Such circumstances often need extensive medical treatment.

Typical Wrongful Birth Cases

Plaintiffs making wrongful birth claims often argue they didn't get the information to make an informed decision. If they had gotten the information about the unborn child, they say that they could have made a better decision on whether to conceive or to carry a fetus to term. Because they didn't, plaintiffs claim that their child was born with significant birth defects.

Suppose a woman in her first trimester of pregnancy visits her obstetrician. Her doctor negligently fails to diagnose her with rubella (German measles). The baby is then born with congenital rubella syndrome (or CRS). This condition comes with a high risk for birth defects such as deafness, heart malformations, and eye abnormalities.

In a wrongful birth lawsuit, the mother must prove her case about the birth of a child. She must prove that:

  • Had her doctor not failed to diagnose a condition or provide adequate medical information, she would have learned of the potential risks
  • She would have decided to terminate the pregnancy if she had known of the potential risks

Parents might file a wrongful birth lawsuit if one (or both) parents has a genetic condition carrying a high risk of having children with significant birth defects. Had the parents known the risks, they may have made different contraception choices.

If the doctor failed to diagnose this condition during genetic testing, the parents could have a claim. During genetic testing, the doctor must have failed to inform the parents about the risk of birth defects.

Wrongful Birth Damages

Parents who successfully bring a wrongful birth case may get financial compensation to offset the costs of caring for a child with birth defects. Medical expenses for caring for a child with a disability can be enormous.

Expenses can include the following:

  • Tuition for special schools to help a child with a severe learning disability
  • Costs of regular medical monitoring
  • Costs of ongoing medical treatment

Parents may also get financial compensation for emotional distress. Parents can have a child with a severe medical condition such as the following:

  • Spina bifida
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Down syndrome

Parents often suffer from emotional or mental distress resulting from the child's birth defects.

On tort damages, courts are unlikely to award compensation for the ordinary costs of raising a child. Instead, parents can usually only recover damages directly attributed to the birth defects.

Wrongful Life Lawsuits

A child who developed severe birth defects can file a wrongful life lawsuit. These birth defects must result from a negligent diagnosis or failure to diagnose an illness. In some ways, a wrongful life lawsuit is the flip side of wrongful birth.

In wrongful life cases, the argument is that had the defendant not been negligent, the plaintiff would not have been born.

Wrongful Life Damages

Courts have been reluctant to award damages in wrongful life cases. It isn't easy to calculate the compensation. As with wrongful birth lawsuits, a wrongful life claim plaintiff must also prove that the parents wouldn't have conceived the child or carried the fetus to term if they knew about the hereditary ailment or disability.

Generally, medical malpractice claims seek whatever amount of money the plaintiff needs to be made whole. The law seeks to restore the plaintiff to their position before the injury.

In a wrongful life lawsuit, this is impossible. There was no injury-free state in the child's life. The plaintiff was born with the injuries. But some courts have awarded child plaintiffs compensation in limited circumstances.

When recovery is possible, wrongful life plaintiffs usually recover those extraordinary expenses caused by the birth defects. The plaintiff may recover such damages if the parents didn't recover those amounts. No jurisdiction allows pain and suffering damages for wrongful life plaintiffs due to their condition.

Get Legal Advice About Your Case

A lawyer can help you understand what to do if a wrongful birth or wrongful life case affects you. Understanding your legal options while caring for a baby with special needs is challenging. Plus, these are particularly difficult cases to endure from an emotional perspective. It's critical to get an attorney's advice. Let an injury attorney review your claim today.

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