In 2006, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the “limited-damages rule” applied to wrongful-birth cases in the state. Since the decision, parents wishing to seek compensation for injuries that resulted from a doctor or hospital’s wrongful birth negligence have discovered limitations on the monetary recovery available.
In Schirmer v. Mt. Auburn Obstetrics & Gynecologic Assoc., Inc, the plaintiff, an Ohio woman, suffered from obstetric problems. The problems lead her to seek genetic testing and counseling before conceiving a child. The genetic tests, however, revealed that she had a chromosomal condition that increases the risk of her bearing a child with serious birth defects if she were to conceive.
The woman became pregnant. Following further testing, doctors informed the woman that the child would develop normally. As a result, the woman decided to continue her pregnancy.
However, the child was born with a structurally-abnormal chromosome (known as Trisomy 22). As a result, the child would suffer significant disabilities for the rest of his life.
Ohio Parents Allege Medical Malpractice for Birth Defects
In 2002, parents of the child brought a wrongful-birth lawsuit against the doctors and their clinic, alleging medical malpractice. The parents claimed that the doctors were negligent because they did not properly perform and interpret diagnostic tests and that they failed to recommend further testing that would have revealed the child’s genetic abnormality. The parents asserted that, with such information, they would have opted to terminate the pregnancy.
In the lawsuit they requested damages for:
- Pregnancy and birth costs
- Consequential economic damages, including the increased costs associated with raising and supporting a child with disabilities
- Consequential noneconomic damages, including the added emotional and physical impact of raising and supporting a child with disabilities
The doctors and their clinic argued, however, that Ohio law does not allow recovery for consequential economic damages or consequential noneconomic damages in wrongful-birth cases.
The Court’s Decision to Limit Recovery
The case made it all the way up to the Ohio Supreme Court. In 2006, the Ohio Supreme Court (agreeing with the doctors) ruled that the limited-damages rule did apply to wrongful-birth lawsuits in Ohio and therefore the parents could not recover for indirect costs associated with the wrongful birth of their child. In other words, the ruling means that parents who sue for medical malpractice in a wrongful-birth case can only recover damages for the costs directly associated with the mother’s pregnancy and the birth of the child. The parents may not be compensated for the financial or emotional and physical costs of rearing a child with disabilities.
The Court’s Reasoning
The Court justified their decision and stated that by allowing recovery for consequential damages judges or juries would then have to compare “the value of being, albeit with disabilities, versus nonbeing” when deciding the additional costs incurred by having a child with disabilities.
The Court said that weighing the relative merits of a person’s life compared to his or her nonexistence “falls within the ambit of moral, philosophical and religious considerations” and is not fit for judicial evaluation. Therefore, consequential economic damages and consequential noneconomic damages may not be awarded to parents in a wrongful-birth lawsuit.
The Impact of the Court’s Decision
The Ohio Supreme Court’s 2006 decision in Schirmer significantly impacts the types of recovery available in Ohio for wrongful-birth cases.
Today, parents can only recover damages for their obstetrical costs, and unfortunately, are not allowed to recover for the costs of supporting a child with disabilities.
Experts nationwide agree that the costs of raising a child with a disability are significantly higher than raising a child without special needs.
If you suspect medical negligence played a part in the birth of your child, speaking with an experienced Ohio wrongful birth lawyer is recommended.