Earlier this week, a King County Superior Court jury awarded a couple $50
million, the largest individual award in Washington state history. According to a
story in The Seattle Times, the couple sued a local hospital and laboratory
after their son was born with severe mental and physical disabilities.
The jury found the hospital and lab equally negligent in not properly
performing a test that would have found that the baby had a rare genetic
defect called an
unbalanced chromosome translocation.
Oversights by Hospital and Lab
Since the husband had found out that the defect ran in his family, the
couple had gone through extensive genetic testing and counseling before
deciding to have a baby. They knew there was a 50-50 chance their baby
would have the translocation. Once the wife became pregnant, the hospital
ordered a prenatal test to determine whether the translocation was present
in the fetus. However, the hospital failed to send some important information
to the lab, and the lab did not ask the hospital for it. Without this
information, the test results were not reliable.
The couple claimed that if they had known that the baby would be born with
the defect, they would have terminated the pregnancy. After being told
that the baby would not have the translocation, the mother went ahead
and gave birth in 2008. The child is now 5 ½ years old, has an
IQ between 50 and 70, and, according to the couple’s attorney, will
require 24/7 care for the rest of his life.
The couple’s attorney blamed the hospital’s oversight on cutbacks
in its genetic counseling services. He claimed that, had a genetic counselor
been more involved in the process, he could have assured that the proper
tests were performed by the lab and that the couple was fully informed
before deciding to give birth.
The Rise of Wrongful Birth Cases
The Washington state case is just the latest development in the fairly
new and controversial medical malpractice claim known as “wrongful
birth.” In these cases, parents sue medical providers for failing
to properly warn them of the risk of giving birth to children with serious
genetic or congenital abnormalities. The parents generally claim that
without these warnings, they were unable to make truly informed decisions
about whether or not to keep the baby.
Raising children with these disabilities can be financially burdensome,
so parents often seek damages from the medical providers to offset the
costs. About half of the states in the US recognize wrongful birth as
a legitimate claim in civil court. However, politicians in some states
have attempted to
pass bans on wrongful birth lawsuits, claiming that they denigrate the lives of
disabled people and encourage women to abort fetuses that may have genetic
Pursuing a Medical Malpractice Claim
If you believe you have a legitimate wrongful birth claim, or you have
been the victim of any other sort of medical malpractice, you should contact
a personal injury attorney immediately. An attorney can review the facts
of your case and determine whether you have a viable claim. If so, they
can help you seek the compensation and healing you deserve.