A wrongful birth occurs when, during a pregnancy, a medical professional fails to inform parents of potential birth defects or malformations that result in disability. This means that one or more medical professionals either failed to adequately perform or interpret prenatal testing or withheld key information about the baby’s health, preventing the parents from making an informed decision about how to proceed with their pregnancy. Unlike many other disabilities, disabilities in a case of wrongful birth are not caused during labor and delivery but are instead the result of genetic or congenital factors not properly diagnosed or reported prenatally. In some states, the parents of a child with this type of disability are able to pursue a medical malpractice lawsuit against medical professionals for failure to inform the family of these disabilities prior to their birth. In lawsuits of this sort, the parents claim that if the doctor had properly tested, learned of abnormalities prenatally, and warned them about the risks of genetic or congenital disease, they would have made the decision to terminate their pregnancy. Compensation from successful wrongful birth lawsuits can help cover costs including therapy, care, equipment, surgery and more.
Birth Defects and Wrongful Birth
It is first important to note the difference between a birth injury (like cerebral palsy or hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE)), and a birth defect (like congenital heart disease or spina bifida). A birth injury most often occurs to a healthy baby as a result of complications during labor and delivery, while a birth defect occurs due to some type of genetic or predisposing factor. Wrongful birth cases are specifically associated with birth defects, not birth injuries.
Some of the most common birth defects related to wrongful birth cases include:
- Anencephaly: A serious birth defect in which the baby is born without parts of the brain and skull.
- Spina bifida: A birth defect that occurs when the bones of the spine do not form properly around the baby’s spinal cord.
- Cystic fibrosis: A disease in which fluids in the body become thick, blocking tubes and ducts in the body, and potentially making it more difficult to breathe over time.
- Holoprosencephaly (HPE): A birth defect that often results in a single-lobed brain, and severe skull and facial defects.
- Down Syndrome: A disease that is characterized by a set of certain physical features (flat face, short neck), and some degree of intellectual disability.
These birth defects are detectable with prenatal testing during the pregnancy. Medical professionals have a responsibility to inform parents about any abnormalities in their developing baby, along with any possible health risks that can accompany these abnormalities. When properly informed, parents can make an informed decision about what to do. In cases of wrongful birth, however, parents are not informed about the risks of congenital defects, and therefore do not have the opportunity to make an informed decision about the status of their pregnancy.
Pursuing A Wrongful Birth Lawsuit
If a physician fails to inform parents of the risks or complications associated with their pregnancy, this can be a cause for medical malpractice. In a wrongful birth lawsuit, parents usually claim due to the negligence of their physician, they were unable to make an informed decision about whether to continue their pregnancy. There are four main criteria that must be met if parents are to file a wrongful birth lawsuit:
- A patient-doctor relationship must exist. In other words, the parents must have received some sort of medical diagnosis or advice from the doctor.
- The physician must exhibit negligence by failing to disclose crucial information about the risks of genetic or congenital disease to the parents
- The plaintiffs in the case (the parents/family) must be subject to harm (having a child with a significant abnormality and being denied the opportunity to make an informed choice)
- The physician’s negligence must be the cause of the harm. This means that if the physician had provided parents with information about their risks, the child would have been normal, or the parents would have decided to terminate the pregnancy.
If these four criteria are met, then the situation can likely be classified as a wrongful birth case and may be considered for a medical malpractice lawsuit.
**Note: At the present time, some states do not allow parents to pursue wrongful birth lawsuits at all, including Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and Utah.
What Happens if I Win a Wrongful Birth Lawsuit?
Parents who successfully sue for the wrongful birth of their child are compensated for the costs of their child’s care, which can include the costs of medical equipment, surgeries, therapy, and other costs associated with caring for a child with disabilities. In some states, parents may opt to receive additional damages for the emotional and psychological pressures involved in raising a child with birth defects.
Our Trusted Medical Malpractice Attorneys
If you suspect your family was the victim of medical malpractice related to wrongful birth, resulting in a serious genetic or congenital defect, call the award-winning birth injury attorneys at Reiter & Walsh ABC Law Centers. With over 100 years of joint legal experience, our legal team has the education, qualifications, and dedication required to succeed. We’ve handled cases involving several different birth complications, and numerous instances of medical malpractice related to obstetrics, prenatal, and neonatal care. Our team helps clients all over the country.
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