In the Courts: Obstetrics: Lab Error and Hospital Miscommunication Result in Birth of Infant with Genetic Defect; $50 Million Damage Award

January 6, 2016 | Strategic Insights for Health System


​A Washington State court of appeals upheld a jury verdict of $25 million in damages to an infant born with severe deficits as a result of an undetected genetic defect and $25 million to his parents for their wrongful-life and wrongful-birth claims. The plaintiffs sued the perinatologist, the hospital where the mother underwent a chorionic villus sampling (CVS) procedure, and the outside testing laboratory. The trial court granted the plaintiffs summary judgment against the perinatologist; he subsequently entered into a "high/low agreement" establishing $500,000 as his minimum liability, regardless of the jury's verdict, and a maximum liability of $2 million, the limits of his liability insurance coverage. The hospital settled with the plaintiffs before trial.

In light of a paternal family history of a child born with an inheritable genetic defect and results of a genetic test performed on the plaintiff father, the couple was aware that they faced a 50% chance that any baby they conceived would have unbalanced genetic translocations likely to result in "physical differences" and learning disability or mental retardation. The couple wished to avoid such an outcome, and their obstetrician ordered additional genetic counseling in conjunction with the CVS procedure. The hospital scheduled genetic testing to be done on New Year's Eve—a day when no genetic counselor was working at its fetal medicine clinic. The appointment could not be rescheduled timely—the CVS procedure must be performed before the end of the 13th week of pregnancy, and the mother was already 12 weeks pregnant. Staffing and scheduling constraints at the hospital and another facility that performed CVS made it unlikely that the test could be performed within the next week. The plaintiffs also wished to terminate the pregnancy as...

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