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Iowa Jury Awards More Than $14.5 Million in Wrongful Birth Lawsuit

Baby is crying while being carried by his mother.

In January 2019, an Iowa jury awarded more than $14.5 million to parents who claimed that their medical care providers’ failure to warn them about their child’s fetal abnormalities prevented them from making an informed choice on whether to go through with the child’s birth.

The case involved a 2017 Iowa Supreme Court decision which resulted in the state joining the majority of jurisdictions in our country which recognize a “wrongful birth” cause of action, including the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia. Due to advances in prenatal care and genetic testing, these cases are likely to increase in the coming years.

Parents Were Never Informed About Fetal Abnormalities

According to the Iowa Supreme Court’s June 2017 opinion, the parents were married with two children when the mother became pregnant with their third child in late 2010. In the 22nd week of her pregnancy, she underwent an ultrasound to assess development of the fetus.

The ultrasound images showed that the fetus’ head was “abnormally small.” One radiologist noted the issue and recommended follow-up. However, another radiologist did not report those findings. Instead, he reported that the head was “slightly” below normal size.

When the mother met with her doctor, he told her that “everything was fine” with the baby’s development. The doctor did not tell her that the one radiologist had found any abnormalities. He also did not order any follow-up on the ultrasound as the one radiologist had suggested, the opinion states.

In 2010, the child was born with cerebral palsy, intellectual disability and several other impairments which require frequent doctors’ visits and “make it unlikely he’ll ever walk or speak,” The Des Moines Register reports. The mother had to quit her job in order to take care of the child.

Iowa Supreme Court Recognizes Wrongful Birth Claim

The parents filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against two medical facilities and individual medical care providers in 2013. The lawsuit alleged that the doctors negligently failed to inform the parents of the fetal abnormalities in the ultrasound images which, in turn, deprived the parents of their ability to make an informed choice of whether to lawfully terminate the pregnancy.

The trial court dismissed the lawsuit because Iowa had not previously recognized a cause of action for wrongful birth. The trial court said it would be up to either the state’s legislature or Supreme Court to recognize such a claim. The Iowa Supreme Court proceeded to do so in a nearly unanimous decision which the Court issued in December 2017.

In that decision, the Supreme Court noted that:

  • 23 states recognize wrongful birth actions by judicial decision
  • One state (Maine) recognizes the action by statute
  • Three states, by judicial decision, refuse to recognize the action
  • 12 states have laws that bar recognition of wrongful birth claims.

According to the Court, the compensable “injury” in a wrongful birth claim is the parents’ loss of the opportunity to make an informed decision about whether to terminate the pregnancy or to go through with the child’s birth.

“It’s not this court’s role to second-guess that intensely personal and difficult decision,” the Court states in the opinion. “Parents of children with disabilities may find their lives enriched by the challenges and joys they confront daily. But under our tort law, financial compensation should be paid by the negligent physician if liability is proven.”

In reaching its decision, the Court rejected the defendants’ argument that recognition of a wrongful birth cause of action would “stigmatize the disabled community, encourage abortions, increase the cost of prenatal care and result in fraudulent claims.” Instead, the Court found, recognizing the action could encourage more accurate prenatal testing. Ultimately, the Court determined, allowing wrongful birth claims would be consistent with the goal of tort law – to compensate injured parties with damages in order to make them whole.

Jury Awards Economic and Non-Economic Damages to Parents

The Supreme Court’s decision sent the case back to the trial court in Lee County, Iowa. Following a fairly lengthy trial, the jury found the defendants liable for medical negligence and awarded a total of $14,504,790 in damages to both parents, according to WGEM. The award included:

  • $11,647,649 in economic damages (covering past and future medical costs, including the child’s “reasonable and necessary extraordinary medical expenses and services, custodial care and attendant care services and equipment and adaptive housing”)
  • $1,631,938 in past and future emotional distress damages to the mother
  • $1,225,203 in past and future emotional distress damages to the father.

Wrongful Birth Actions in Washington, D.C., and Surrounding States

Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia are among the 23 jurisdictions which, like Iowa, allow the parents of disabled children to sue for the “wrongful birth” of a child. These jurisdictions define the “injury” as the parents being deprived of the right to decide whether to avoid the birth of a child with congenital defects. A claim must demonstrate how a medical professional’s negligence caused this injury. For instance, the doctor may have failed to order certain tests, misinterpreted the test results or, ultimately, neglected to tell the parents about potential problems with a fetus.

However, each jurisdiction handles the issue of damages differently. For instance, the District of Columbia allows parents to recovery only the extraordinary medical and child-rearing expenses that the birth brings into their lives. Maryland offsets the damages which parents can recover by the benefits which they gain by having the child in their lives.

Get Help from an Experienced Washington, D.C., Birth Injury Lawyer

If you believe that you have the grounds for a wrongful birth claim in Virginia, Maryland or the District of Columbia, you should seek help without delay from an experienced medical malpractice lawyer. At The Law Offices of Dr. Michael M. Wilson, M.D., J.D. & Associates, our attorneys are also doctors. They can bring to your case a deep understanding of both the medical and legal issues that arise in wrongful birth cases. Over the years, our law firm has recovered more than $100 million on behalf of our clients.

To learn more, contact us today. We will provide a free and confidential consultation. We will not accept a fee unless we secure just compensation for you.

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