A Lee County, Iowa jury has awarded a family over $14 million in compensation, bringing to successful conclusion a wrongful birth lawsuit filed over 4 years ago, according to WGEM. Court records indicate that the plaintiffs filed suit against Fort Madison Community Hospital and three doctors, claiming the medical professionals failed to inform them of severe fetal abnormalities.

Lawsuit Claimed Negligence In Failure To Inform Of Abnormalities

In a lawsuit filed in 2013, the family demanded damages for past and future medical care, mental anguish and loss of income due to their child’s severe disabilities. The lawsuit claims that the mother was assured after an ultrasound during her 22nd week of pregnancy that her unborn child was perfectly healthy, despite two radiologist examinations that discovered “head abnormalities.” In court documents, the parents claimed that they were never informed of these risks, and would have chosen to terminate the pregnancy if they knew. The mother claims that she was forced to quit her job in order to care for her child.

Baby Feet

Defendants Held Liable For Financial Damages

In a January 10, 2019 verdict, a jury for a court in Lee County, Iowa agreed with the plaintiff family’s arguments, holding the hospital and doctors accountable for the “wrongful birth” of their child. In terms of liability, the defendant hospital and Leah Steffensmeier, M.D. were held 65% responsible, while Pil Kang, M.D. and Davis Radiology, P.C. were found to be 35% liable.

In total, the family was awarded $14,504,790 in compensation, including a total of over $11.6 million for “the present value of reasonable and necessary extraordinary medical expenses and services, custodial care and attendant care services, and equipment and adaptive housing for [the child] which will be incurred in the future.”

The mother was awarded an additional $285,000 for past emotional distress, as well as $1,346,938 for future emotional distress. Her husband was granted $215,000 for emotional distress in the past, along with $1,010,203 for emotional distress in the future.

What Is A Wrongful Birth Lawsuit?

In their lawsuit, the parents argued that, through their medical professionals’ failure to inform, they were not given the option to terminate the pregnancy, an option they would have taken with full information. This is known as a “wrongful birth” lawsuit.

In brief, a wrongful birth lawsuit is filed by the parents of a child with severe disabilities, usually as the result of congenital defects. In their lawsuits, the parents argue that, had their doctor not failed to inform them of the risks of congenital defects, they would have opted to have an abortion. Thus the life of the child, the fact that the child exists at all, is said to be wrongful, through the failure or omission of a medical professional.

Needless to say, wrongful life claims are highly controversial, and rare for obvious reasons. They are also impossible in some jurisdictions, where state statutes explicitly forbid them. In Iowa, where the recently-completed lawsuit was filed, a 2017 state Supreme Court decision held that parents of a severely disabled child have the right to file suit against a medical care provider for failing to warn of fetal birth defects that would have resulted in the mother having an abortion.

Pennsylvania Does Not Allow Wrongful Birth Lawsuits

Pennsylvania, on the other hand, is among the many states where wrongful birth lawsuits of this type are prohibited by law. A 1998 statute, known as Act 47, precludes actions filed over claims of both wrongful birth and wrongful life. Pennsylvania’s courts, including the state Supreme Court in 2016, have repeatedly upheld the wrongful birth prohibition as constitutional upon appeal. Despite multiple attempts by parents seeking compensation in the wake of delivering a severely disabled child, wrongful birth lawsuits are impossible in Pennsylvania.

New York Allows Wrongful Birth Lawsuits

New York is another story. In New York, wrongful birth lawsuits are allowed, as numerous court decisions have shown. A recent case decided by the New York Court of Appeals affirmed the constitutionality of a wrongful birth lawsuit filed over IVF treatments, in which parents argued that an IVF clinic failed to determine that a donor egg carried genes for the Fragile X trait, a rare developmental disorder.