What Can a Parent Do When Doctors Misinterpret Prenatal Genetic Testing?
When a couple learns they are expecting a child, especially if conception was difficult, it is likely one of the happiest days of their lives, and thoughts of needing to sue a hospital or doctor for medical malpractice are far from their minds. Instead, the first days after finding out the happy news are usually filled with a lot of activity as the couple starts notifying family and friends about the pregnancy and musing about what it will be like to have a new child. However, there are circumstances that could temper the mood of this celebration if one or both parents are concerned about the child inheriting or developing a genetic defect. In fact, some hospitals automatically screen all pregnant mothers for certain genetic disorders, such as spina bifida, Down syndrome, cystic fibrosis, and sickle cell anemia, and if the parents are particularly worried about a genetic disorder due to a family history, the level of screening will likely be higher. Parents rely on the doctor’s interpretation of the test results, and if the information given to the parents’ is wrong, the consequences can be devastating. While it is certainly understandable why some would find this practice controversial if the parents decided to end the pregnancy, it is possible for doctors to perform procedures before the child is born to correct certain disorders. Parents who only learn of a genetic disorder after birth due to faulty interpretations of testing results can file lawsuits, called wrongful birth actions, claiming the doctors were negligent, and ask for damages sufficient to pay for the ongoing medical care the child will need for the remainder of his/her life. An overview of a doctor’s duty in relation to genetic testing, and what a plaintiff must prove to successfully sue a physician for medical malpractice will follow below.
Duty of Care
Every doctor owes their patients a professional standard of care that requires the doctor to make prudent and reasonable treatment decisions that other health care providers would view as acceptable and appropriate if they were facing a similar situation. In the area of genetic defects, there are several ways this duty could be breached and make the doctor liable for any resulting injury. First, there are a number of genetic testing procedures doctors can administer throughout a pregnancy capable of testing for various genetic disorders. If a doctor failed to conduct proper or sufficient testing that would have revealed a genetic disorder, and such testing was called for under the circumstances, such as family history of a genetic disorder, the physician could possibly be liable. Second, if the doctor ordered the correct tests, but failed to interpret the results accurately and other physicians in the same field and level of experience would have correctly understood the data, the doctor could face liability.
Elements of a Case
As a preliminary note it is helpful to understand that parents in wrongful birth cases sue on behalf of their child and identify the child as the recipient of the injury, and not themselves. In order to prove medical negligence, it will be necessary to show:
- the doctor owed the plaintiff a duty of care, which is established in any doctor/patient relationship;
- the doctor breached this duty of care by failing to order the correct genetic testing or inaccurately interpreting the results of the genetic testing;
- this breach prevented the unborn child from receiving medical treatment that could have corrected the genetic disorder, or allowed the parents to decide whether to end the pregnancy; and
- the child was born with a debilitating genetic defect that will require constant, expensive, and unending medical treatment for the entirety of the child’s life.
Get Legal Advice
If you or your child was injured due to the negligence of a doctor during pregnancy, labor, or post-birth treatment, you may be able to sue the doctor for medical malpractice. Experienced medical malpractice lawyers can evaluate the facts of your case, and let you know if you have a strong claim. Lawyers at the Miami law firm of Pita Weber & Del Prado understand the emotional toll these cases take and will work to hold the responsible parties accountable. Contact us for a free consultation.