Courting Justice: 50 Million Dollar Jury Verdict in a Case Some Believe Should Never Be Brought

December 11, 2013

Extremely large jury verdicts are rare. When they do happen, there is good reason. This week, a 50 million dollar jury verdict was handed down in a courtroom in Seattle, Washington. It happened in a case that many people do not believe should be allowed. You’ve heard of a wrongful death case? Some states recognize a cause of action for wrongful life. Here’s what happened.

The plaintiffs, husband and wife, underwent genetic testing and learned there was a 50% chance that if they had a child, he or she would be born with a genetic defect and be profoundly disabled. When the wife became pregnant, they followed the instructions of their genetic counselor and underwent a test very early in the pregnancy to determine if the fetus had the defect. The results of the test indicated that the child would be normal. However, when their son was born, he suffered from severe mental and physical disabilities. He was born with the genetic defect the parents were worried about. The parents face a lifetime of enormous medical expenses.

Their attorney performed an investigation and learned that the genetic test they underwent to determine if the fetus had the defective gene, only works when the hospital that performed the test provides the lab with certain additional information. The additional information assists the lab in finding the defect. Here, the hospital that performed the test did not employ a properly trained genetic counselor. Their employee did not know it was his responsibility to provide the lab with the information.

The lab, on the other hand, had a policy that when they don’t receive the needed information, they are to call the hospital to obtain it. In this instance, they did not. Had everyone performed their duties in a responsible fashion, the parents would have learned of the genetic defect and would have been able to have an abortion early in the pregnancy.

Their child, who is currently 5 years old, has an IQ of 50 and severe physical limitations. He will require constant care and supervision for the remainder of his life. It is the cost of that care that in my opinion makes this a 50 million dollar case.

This type of lawsuit is known as a wrongful birth case. It is somewhat controversial. Many people believe that there is no such thing as a wrongful birth and that parents should not be able to sue if, as a result of negligence, a couple continues a pregnancy and gives birth to a child with disabilities. In fact, in Pennsylvania wrongful birth lawsuits have been outlawed. In New Jersey, however, they are permitted.

Personally, I don’t like the use of the words “wrongful birth.” All children, no matter what their disability is, are precious. The concept that a child is a product of a wrongful birth bothers me on many levels. Yet, at the same time, I don’t think a couple should be saddled with the costs of raising a child with severe disabilities due to someone else’s negligence costing them their legal right to end the pregnancy. It should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I would be pro-choice. Because a woman has a right to choose, those responsible for supplying correct information to them so they can make an intelligent choice, must be held accountable if they are negligent.

What do you think?