Earlier this month, a jury in King County, Washington awarded $50 million to a couple whose son was born with severe mental and physical disabilities – an unprecedented jury verdict for this type of case. The case itself was also incredibly unique.
In this case, the father had a rare genetic defect in his family line – his cousin was found to have a defect known as an unbalanced chromosome translocation. As a result, any children he would have would be at risk – and he and his wife were told that there would be a 50/50 chance of such a defect occurring in their own children. Given this alarming news, the couple closely followed all medical recommendations, including genetic counseling and testing. When the man’s wife became pregnant, medical professionals told the couple that genetic tests pronounced their child as normal.
Unfortunately, this was not the case. As soon as their son was born, it became apparent that he had the genetic defect, and was born with severe mental and physical disabilities as a result. Valley Medical Center and Laboratory Corporation of America (LabCorp) became the responsible parties.
Court documents filed in the wrongful-birth case claimed that Valley Medical Center ordered prenatal tests that were designed to detect genetic defects and chromosomal abnormalities only when the lab receives information about where to look for the defects. Valley Medical Center did not provide this information to the lab. They also never told the company that without the specified tests, there were still risks of the defect. Had the couple known about the defect, they would have terminated the pregnancy.
Labco also held responsibility in the matter, as their protocol required them to follow up when such information was not provided. They did not. The couple’s child has profound disabilities and will require 24/7 care for the rest of his life. In siding with the parents, the King County jury awarded the largest individual award in Washington state history.
Wrongful birth cases are extremely controversial and difficult. Still, the parents in this case were led to believe that their child was healthy and normal. Had they known about the defect, they would have terminated the pregnancy. These are truly difficult cases, and the type that demands the attention and compassion of an experienced medical malpractice attorney.
Dr. Michael M. Wilson is an attorney and a physician who earned his undergraduate degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his legal and medical degrees from Georgetown University. He has focused in the area of medical malpractice for more than three decades and secured more than $100 million in settlements and verdicts on behalf of clients throughout the country. He is admitted to practice in the District of Columbia and New York as well as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and the U.S. Supreme Court. He is listed in America’s Top 100 High Stakes Litigators.