Wrongful birth refers to a legal claim brought by parents against a medical professional for negligence, medical malpractice, or failure to inform them about potential birth defects or genetic disorders in their unborn child. The parents argue that had they known about the child’s condition, they would have chosen to terminate the pregnancy.
It’s important to note that wrongful birth claims do not imply that the child’s life is unworthy but rather that the parents were denied the chance to make an informed decision.
What Are Some Examples of Wrongful Birth Claims?
Examples of wrongful birth claims might include situations where:
- A doctor fails to advise parents of a significant risk that their child will be born with a genetic disorder, like Down Syndrome, even though the risk was evident in genetic testing.
- A doctor misinterprets lab results, incorrectly telling parents that their child is not at risk for a serious genetic condition when in fact they are.
- A doctor does not inform a pregnant woman that a medication she’s taking could cause birth defects.
What Is Wrongful Life?
Wrongful life is a related but different legal claim. In a wrongful life lawsuit, the disabled child themselves (through a legal guardian) claims that if the doctor had not been negligent in prenatal testing or counseling, they would not have been born to suffer from their disability.
Let’s imagine a hypothetical scenario involving a couple, John and Jane Doe, who are expecting their first child. During Jane’s pregnancy, they visit their obstetrician, Dr. Smith, for routine prenatal care, which includes genetic testing due to Jane’s age.
Dr. Smith, aware of the increased risk of Down Syndrome because of Jane’s age, fails to advise the couple of the need for more detailed genetic screening. He also neglects to offer an amniocentesis or other comprehensive prenatal diagnostic tests that could confirm the presence of the syndrome.
Jane gives birth to a baby boy, whom they name Joseph. Shortly after birth, Joseph is diagnosed with Down Syndrome. The Does are surprised and devastated, having had no indication throughout the pregnancy that their child would be born with a disability.
As Joseph grows, he requires significant medical treatment, specialized care, and educational resources due to his condition. The emotional and financial toll on the Doe family is substantial.
A few years later, the Does discover that Jane’s age at the time of her pregnancy should have prompted Dr. Smith to recommend further genetic testing to identify potential genetic disorders, such as Down Syndrome. They learn that their son’s condition could have been identified in utero, and they could have made an informed decision about the pregnancy.
They then decide to pursue a wrongful life claim on behalf of Joseph. In their lawsuit, they argue that if Dr. Smith had not been negligent in his prenatal care, they would have known about Joseph’s Down Syndrome. Given the choice, they would have terminated the pregnancy to spare Joseph the suffering caused by his disability.
While the Does love Joseph dearly, their claim centers on the argument that Dr. Smith’s negligence directly resulted in Joseph’s wrongful life – a life filled with avoidable challenges and suffering due to Down Syndrome. In their claim, they seek compensation for Joseph’s ongoing and future medical care, educational needs, and other support necessary due to his condition.
What Is Wrongful Pregnancy?
A wrongful pregnancy claim, also known as wrongful conception, is made when a medical procedure, such as a vasectomy or tubal ligation, is performed incorrectly, resulting in an unwanted pregnancy. These claims are made on the basis that the parents would not have conceived the child but for the medical professional’s negligence.
Let’s consider the case of another couple, Alice and Bob Thompson. The Thompsons already have three children and have decided that they don’t wish to expand their family further due to financial constraints. After discussing their options, they decide that Bob will undergo a vasectomy.
Bob consults with a urologist, Dr. Johnson, who performs the procedure. Following the vasectomy, Dr. Johnson tells Bob that he’s now sterile and can no longer father children. He fails, however, to emphasize the need for follow-up semen analysis to confirm sterility.
Trusting in the effectiveness of the procedure and the doctor’s assurances, the Thompsons continue their marital life without additional contraception. Several months later, Alice finds out she’s pregnant. The pregnancy is difficult, causing Alice substantial discomfort and health problems. After the birth of their fourth child, the Thompsons face additional financial strain.
Upon discovering that the vasectomy failed to prevent conception, the Thompsons decide to file a wrongful pregnancy lawsuit against Dr. Johnson. They allege that Dr. Johnson was negligent in his post-operative care by failing to adequately communicate the importance of follow-up testing to confirm the success of the vasectomy. The Thompsons assert that they would not have conceived their fourth child if not for this negligence.
In their lawsuit, the Thompsons seek damages for the cost of the pregnancy, including medical expenses and Alice’s lost wages from being unable to work during this time, and the cost of raising another child. They may also seek compensation for the pain and suffering Alice endured due to the unexpected pregnancy and childbirth.
What Proof Is Required for a Wrongful Birth Claim When the Child Is Disabled?
In a wrongful birth claim, you must generally be able to prove:
- The physician had a duty to inform the parents of the potential for a birth defect or genetic disorder.
- The physician breached that duty by failing to adequately inform the parents.
- As a direct result of this failure, the parents were unable to make an informed decision about whether to continue the pregnancy.
- The child was born with a birth defect or genetic disorder.
What Damages Are Available in Wrongful Birth Claims?
Damages in a wrongful birth claim can include:
- Medical expenses related to the child’s condition.
- The cost of special care or therapy for the child.
- Emotional distress experienced by the parents.
- Lost wages due to caring for the child.
- Pain and suffering.
Should I Consult an Attorney?
If you believe you have a wrongful birth, wrongful life, or wrongful pregnancy claim, it’s crucial to consult with a knowledgeable birth injury lawyer. These are complex legal matters, and the laws vary greatly by state. A skilled wrongful birth lawyer can review your case, advise you on your options, and represent your interests in court.
Proving negligence is often a central element in wrongful birth, wrongful life, and wrongful pregnancy cases. Your attorney will work to demonstrate that the healthcare provider(s) involved failed to meet the standard of care expected in similar situations, resulting in harm or damages.
These cases involve complex calculations of damages, including medical expenses, ongoing care costs, pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of income. An attorney can help assess the full extent of damages and seek fair compensation on your behalf.
Legal proceedings can be overwhelming, especially for individuals unfamiliar with the legal system. An attorney will guide you through each step of the process, including filing the lawsuit, negotiating with insurance companies, and representing you in court if necessary.
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