Why One Couple Sued for 'Wrongful Birth'

In difficult circumstances, parents have few options

By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff

Posted Aug 18, 2014 8:30 AM CDT

(Newser) – Sarah and Mark Hall (names changed) love their 3-year-old daughter, Ellie. Yet they recently sued for "wrongful birth," testifying that they would have aborted the pregnancy had they known Ellie would be born with a rare genetic disorder. People who file such lawsuits are often vilified, Elizabeth Picciuto explains in the Daily Beast, but they may have no other choice. In the Halls' case, they knew their daughter was at risk for one of two rare disorders, so Sarah had an amniocentesis at 16 weeks. Someone from the obstetrician's office misread the results, and told the Halls that Ellie would be a carrier, but not symptomatic. Instead, she was born with a rare disorder Picciuto will only refer to as "Syndrome Z." In cases like this, couples are left with few options—and in the Halls' case, their only option was to sue for wrongful birth.

The healthcare worker didn't cause Ellie's disorder, so in order to win a lawsuit against the provider, the Halls had to prove the error caused harm—that is, they would not have proceeded with the pregnancy had they known the truth, and their lives have been adversely affected since they did proceed. As one expert notes, plaintiffs in other medical malpractice cases don't face quite the same burden; in most cases, all that matters is what a "reasonable person" would have done had they received the correct diagnosis, not what the specific plaintiff would have done. Because of the controversy surrounding wrongful birth lawsuits, they're difficult to win, one medical malpractice defense attorney says, adding that juries frequently say they disapproved of the parents in such cases—perhaps not understanding that the parents had no other path to compensation. "Who wants to say 'I wish this child wasn’t here'?" muses Sarah. In their case, the obstetrician's office admitted the mistake and will settle. Another couple recently filed a wrongful birth lawsuit in Chicago, the Sun-Times reports, claiming they were told their son's ultrasound showed no "fetal abnormalities," but he was born with dwarfism. (Click to read about another couple who was awarded $2.9 million in a wrongful birth suit.)

Stock image.
Stock image.   (Shutterstock)
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