Wrongful Pregnancy Lawsuits

While vasectomy and tubal ligation are two of the most effective forms of birth control, accidents sometimes still occur. Wrongful pregnancy lawsuits seek damages for pregnancies--and the subsequent births--that weren't supposed to happen, meaning one or both parents were medically sterilized. Compensation in these cases is often limited to medical costs and the pain and suffering of pregnancy and birth, though the recovery may be expanded when there are complicating factors.

Wrongful Pregnancy Explained

As a legal concept, wrongful pregnancy differs from many typical tort actions in that it doesn't necessarily seek compensation for personal injuries or damage to property. Instead, a wrongful pregnancy lawsuit can be brought if pregnancy results from a negligently-performed sterilization procedure, even when there's no harm to the mother or child. In very basic terms, the situation is one where the claimant or claimants submitted to a medical procedure that, if performed correctly, would have prevented any future pregnancies, but did not.

Wrongful pregnancy shouldn't be confused with similar claims of wrongful birth and wrongful life. Wrongful birth actions, unlike wrongful pregnancy, involve cases where the child is born with a severe congenital disorder or birth defect that, had it been properly detected or diagnosed, would have allowed the mother to abort the fetus. Wrongful life actions are related to wrongful birth, but are brought by parents or guardians on behalf of a child suffering from an undiagnosed genetic or congenital condition. By contrast to wrongful birth or wrongful life claims, the parents of a perfectly healthy child may bring a wrongful pregnancy lawsuit if the pregnancy was unwanted.

Legal Elements of Wrongful Pregnancy

While not a medical malpractice suit per se, a wrongful pregnancy claim does center on whether a medical sterilization was performed negligently. Procedures that are intended to prevent future pregnancy include vasectomies or tubal ligation. While individuals may have any number of reasons for not wanting children, examples include:

  • Risk of congenital health issues
  • Risk of age-related health issue (from older mothers)
  • Risk of health to the mother
  • Insufficient resources or finances to care for a child
  • Personal preference

Like any tort action, whether a wrongful pregnancy suit will succeed depends on factors such as the duty owed, a breach of that duty, and factual and proximate causes. In these situations, the duty owed would be that of the doctor to perform the sterilization correctly, the breach of duty would be negligence in the procedure, and the causes would be that the pregnancy would not have happened "but for" the plaintiff(s) relying on the effectiveness of the botched sterilization. Once these elements are established at trial, the next consideration is the extent of recovery.

Compensation for Wrongful Pregnancy

Generally, a successful wrongful pregnancy suit compensates the parent or parents of the child for expenses and intangible issues directly related to the pregnancy. Expenses include:

  • Prenatal, delivery room, and neonatal medical bills
  • Lost wages from time spent pregnant or recovering from birth
  • The cost of the unsuccessful sterilization procedure

Intangible damages may include:

  • The mother's pain and suffering
  • The father's loss of consortium during the pregnancy and recovery

An area of damages that divides courts is whether parents may seek recovery for future child rearing expenses for an unplanned or unwanted, but otherwise healthy child. Courts tend to defer to the notion that even unexpected children are a good thing for most people and society in general. If, however, financial constraints were a primary factor in seeking sterilization, a minority of states may be more willing to allow a claim for the cost of raising the child to proceed. Courts may also expand compensation options when specific congenital health issues were the reason for the sterilization procedure and the unplanned child inherits those diseases or conditions.

If you or your spouse became pregnant after a medical sterilization procedure, you may have a claim for wrongful pregnancy. Talk to an experienced attorney in your jurisdiction to help determine your best course of action and what kind of recovery is available in your situation.