A “wrongful pregnancy” lawsuit is when a doctor is sued after a sterilization procedure fails and results in an unwanted pregnancy. It’s in the same general category as a wrongful birth lawsuit, but different. In a wrongful pregnancy case you are suing because you got pregnant. In a wrongful birth lawsuit you are suing because your doctor didn’t properly test for or warn you about genetic abnormalities or birth defects.
In a recent wrongful pregnancy case, a woman underwent a tubal ligation but then found herself pregnant. After her child was born, she sued the doctor who performed the procedure. The big issue was whether she could only sue for the harm she personally suffered or if she could also sue for the cost of raising her child, who was born with sickle-cell disease.
The typical damages that you’re allowed to collect in wrongful pregnancy cases are called general damages and include the cost of the failed procedure, the pain and suffering involved, any medical issues caused by the pregnancy, the cost of labor and delivery, and lost wages. Damages for raising a special needs child fall under the category of extraordinary damages and hadn’t been allowed in past cases.
The difference in this case, and what convinced the court to allow extraordinary damages, was the fact that having a second child with sickle-cell disease was the very thing this couple was trying to avoid by having the tubal ligation. And the doctor knew that. It was a foreseeable risk.
In an older case, a woman had sued after she too got pregnant despite a tubal ligation. The child had ADHD, and she went after extraordinary damages to cover the special needs of the child. She didn’t win. Even though her older child had ADHD, having a second child with ADHD simply wasn’t a foreseeable risk in her case. Or it wasn’t foreseeable enough.
In the recent case, there was no question that the couple had a 25% chance of having a child with sickle-cell disease. It’s also important that it was the reason for getting the procedure and that the doctor knew their reasoning.
Not all wrongful pregnancy cases involve the aspect of extraordinary damages, and not all involve a child with special needs. But in cases where it’s a known risk and the doctor is negligent in performing the tubal ligation or other procedure, extra damages do seem appropriate.
The catch is that most pregnancies after a tubal ligation don’t lead to a lawsuit at all because having your tubes tied isn’t 100% effective against preventing a pregnancy. You have to prove that the doctor that did the tubal ligation really messed up. The only way to insure no pregnancy when you have unprotected sex is if the man has had a vasectomy.
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