Wrongful Birth and Wrongful Life Lawsuits
In a wrongful birth lawsuit, the parent or parents of a child who was born with severe medical ailments sues a healthcare professional or hospital. Typically, the plaintiffs (the people filing the lawsuit) claim that the defendant either misdiagnosed the condition of the fetus or provided negligent genetic counseling about the likelihood of the fetus developing abnormally. As a result, the infant was born with major congenital defects that will require extensive (and expensive) medical treatment. In some cases, the infant's birth defects may be so severe that they prevent the parents from developing a normal relationship with their child.
Typical Wrongful Birth Situations
Doctors have a duty to inform their patients about any known risks or complications involved in a pregnancy. Failing to do so can expose healthcare professionals to liability for medical malpractice. Plaintiffs in a wrongful birth lawsuit often claim that because they didn't have the medical information necessary to make an informed decision on whether to conceive or to carry a fetus to term, their child was born with significant birth defects. For example, suppose a woman who is in her first trimester of pregnancy visits her doctor, who negligently fails to diagnose her with rubella, or German measles. The baby is then born with congenital rubella syndrome (or CRS), which can include birth defects such as deafness, heart malformations, and eye abnormalities.
In a wrongful birth lawsuit, the mother 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 and would have decided to terminate the pregnancy. Similarly, parents might file a wrongful birth lawsuit if one (or both) of the parents has a genetic condition that carries a high risk of having children with major birth defects, but during genetic counseling their doctor failed to diagnose this condition and inform them about the risk of birth defects.
Wrongful Birth Damages
Parents who successfully sue for wrongful birth may be awarded financial compensation to offset the costs of caring for a child with birth defects. These expenses can include tuition for special schools to help a child with a severe learning disability or the costs of regular medical monitoring and treatment. Parents may also receive financial compensation for emotional or mental distress they've suffered resulting from the child's birth defects. However, it should be noted that courts are unlikely to award compensation for the ordinary costs of raising a child. Instead, parents can usually only recover damages that can be directly attributed to the birth defects.
Wrongful Life Lawsuits
A wrongful life lawsuit is in some ways the "flip side" of wrongful birth. Wrongful birth lawsuits are filed by the child who developed severe birth defects resulting from a negligent diagnosis. However, courts have been very reluctant to award damages in wrongful life claims because of the difficulty in calculating the amount of compensation. As with wrongful birth lawsuits, a wrongful life claim must also prove that the parents wouldn't have conceived the child or carried the fetus to term had they known of the hereditary ailment or disability.
Generally, medical malpractice claims seek whatever amount of money the plaintiff needs to be made whole, or brought to the state he or she was in before the injury. This is impossible with a wrongful life lawsuit because there was no "injury-free" state as the plaintiff was born with the injuries. However, some courts have awarded child-plaintiffs compensation in certain limited circumstances. Most often, wrongful life plaintiffs may recover those extraordinary expenses caused by the birth defects if the parents have not already recovered those amounts. However, currently no jurisdiction allows wrongful life plaintiffs to be awarded compensation for pain and suffering caused by their condition.
Is Another Party Responsible for an Unintended Birth? Get a Legal Claim Review
If you think you are dealing with a possible wrongful birth case, you may be finding it difficult to know what to do -- especially while caring for a baby with special needs. These are particularly difficult cases to endure from an emotional perspective, so it helps to get an attorney's advice. Let an injury attorney review your wrongful birth claim today.
Contact a qualified medical malpractice attorney to make sure your rights are protected.