In its opinion filed on June 2, 2017, the Iowa Supreme Court recognized for the first time wrongful birth claims in which the parents of a child born with severe disabilities may bring a medical negligence action based on the physicians’ failure to inform them of prenatal test results showing a congenital defect that would have led them to terminate the pregnancy.
The Iowa Supreme Court stated that a “wrongful birth” claim is an action “brought by parents of a child born with birth defects.”
In the case it was deciding, the plaintiffs filed their Iowa medical malpractice action in which they alleged that the prenatal doctors failed to inform them of abnormalities noted during an ultrasound (the radiologist’s report found that the 22-week-old fetus displayed head abnormalities and recommended follow-up). The plaintiffs alleged that they were never informed that the radiologist had found any abnormalities, or that the ultrasound was in any way abnormal. The plaintiffs further alleged that the defendant OB advised them that the ultrasound showed that everything was fine with the baby’s development. No further testing was done to follow up on the ultrasound results as recommended in the radiologist’s report.
The plaintiffs’ child was born with severe cognitive defects and remains unable to speak or walk at age five. The child was diagnosed with small corpus callosum, which the plaintiffs contend relates to the head circumference as shown in the ultrasound. The child suffers from cerebral palsy, microcephaly, intellectual disability, cortical visual impairment, and seizure disorder. However, doctors have been unable to determine the exact cause of the child’s disabilities.
The parents filed their Iowa medical malpractice lawsuit alleging not that the defendants caused their child’s disabilities but rather that the defendant doctors negligently failed to accurately interpret, diagnose, monitor, respond to, and communicate the fetal abnormalities evident in the ultrasound. They allege that as a result of this negligent care, the mother gave birth to the child with severe brain abnormalities.
The child’s parents allege they would have chosen to terminate the pregnancy if they had been informed of what the ultrasound allegedly showed: they seek to recover for their ordinary and extraordinary costs of raising the child and for their loss of income and emotional distress. The district court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment on the grounds that Iowa has not recognized wrongful birth as a cause of action, and stating that a decision to do so was more properly left to the legislature or the Iowa Supreme Court.
The Iowa Supreme Court held: “We conclude that wrongful birth fits within common law tort principles governing medical negligence claims, and no public policy or statute precludes the cause of action … we join the majority of courts to allow parents to sue for the wrongful birth of a severely disabled child. This theory fits within general tort principles for medical negligence actions. We reverse the district court’s summary judgment and remand the case to allow the parents’ wrongful-birth claims to proceed consistent with this opinion.”
In arriving at its decision to recognize a cause of action for wrongful birth in Iowa, the Iowa Supreme Court noted that at least twenty-three U.S. states recognize wrongful birth claims by judicial decision; Maine allows wrongful-birth claims by statute; three state supreme courts have refused to allow wrongful-birth claims; and, twelve states have enacted legislation barring wrongful-birth claims (three of those states had allowed wrongful-birth claims by judicial decision before the legislature barred them).
The Iowa Supreme Court had held in a previous case that Iowa does not recognize a claim for “wrongful pregnancy” (i.e., a medical negligence action brought by the parents of a healthy, but unplanned, child against a physician who negligently performed a sterilization or abortion) because “a parent cannot be said to have been damaged or injured by the birth and rearing of a normal, healthy child because the invaluable benefits of parenthood outweigh the mere monetary burdens as a matter of law.”
Source Plowman v. Fort Madison Community Hospital, No. 15–0974
If your baby was born with severe disabilities that may have been discovered if appropriate testing was timely done during your pregnancy, you may have the basis for a medical malpractice wrongful birth claim. Obtaining the legal advice from a local medical malpractice attorney may help you decide if you may and should proceed with a medical malpractice wrongful birth case.
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