Iowa Supreme Court Recognizes Wrongful Birth Action

On June 2 the Iowa Supreme Court expressly recognized the right of parents to sue for wrongful birth.

Pam and Jeremy Plowman allege the following: Pam underwent ultrasound in week 22 of her pregnancy. The radiologist’s report noted fetal head abnormalities and recommended follow-up. But her OB/GYN told her that the ultrasound showed “that everything was fine,” and there was no follow-up. The child was born with cerebral palsy, microcephaly, visual and intellectual impairment, and seizure disorder. He probably will never walk or speak.

The suit named several health care providers, including the OB/GYN and radiologist, as defendants and alleged failure to accurately interpret, monitor, respond to, and communicate the fetal abnormalities. Plaintiffs allege that if they had been informed of the abnormalities, they would have terminated the pregnancy. They seek damages for the cost of the extraordinary care the child requires.

The trial court granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment, ruling that only the Iowa legislature or Supreme Court could recognize a new cause of action: wrongful birth.

On appeal, the Supreme Court reviewed wrongful birth jurisprudence throughout the country, noting that a majority of states now recognize such claims. The court applied three factors in determining that Iowa should join that majority. First, a wrongful birth claim is consistent with traditional common law concepts.  Second, there are not, as defendants argue, public policy reasons to reject such a cause of action.  Third, Iowa statutes do not, as defendants argue, prohibit recognizing the cause of action.

The court also ruled that Jeremy, as well as Pam, was entitled to pursue the action although he was not a patient of any defendant and is now divorced from Pam. The court found “particularly compelling the father’s joint legal obligation to support a disabled child” and also noted that “fathers also have a voice” in reproductive decisions.

The court reversed the grant of defendants’ motion for summary judgment, with one justice strongly dissenting.

 

The case is Plowman v. Fort Madison Community Hospital, No. 15-0974 (Ia., June 2, 2017).

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