The New York Court of Appeals, the highest court in the state, ruled in favor of two sets of parents who were pursuing a medical malpractice lawsuit against the doctors that performed their in-vitro fertilization treatment. The issue before the Court of Appeals involved whether the statute of limitations for the medical malpractice began when the doctor committed the malpractice or when the child was born.
A “statute of limitations” is a legal term for the time period in which a person can file a lawsuit after they have been wronged, if the Court of Appeals had decided that the clock started running at the time of the medical malpractice then the parents would have been effectively barred from pursuing a lawsuit against their doctors.
A parent typically files a “wrongful birth” lawsuit after a doctor negligently, or recklessly, fails to diagnose a serious birth defect and thereby deprives the parents of the opportunity to terminate the pregnancy. Because of advances in reproductive health and genetic testing, doctors and hospitals now have the ability to diagnose some serious genetic and birth defects during the early stages of a pregnancy.
In the case before the Court of Appeals, the children who were born had a chromosomal defect that produced “intellectual disability and other injuries,” according to the New York Daily News. Because this chromosomal defect could have been discovered early in the pregnancy and a competent doctor would have likely tested for the defect, the parents pursued a medical malpractice claim of “wrongful birth” against the doctors and reproductive center.
Because a “wrongful birth” lawsuit falls under the umbrella of medical malpractice in New York State, there is a two-and-a-half-year statute of limitations. Under Section 214-a of New York Civil Practice Law and Rules, a lawsuit for medical malpractice must be filed within two years and six months from “the date of malpractice or from the end of continuous treatment rendered by the party or entity you intend to sue for a particular condition, illness or injury.”
However, the issue before the Court of Appeals in this case was – when does the statute of limitations start for a “wrongful birth” lawsuit? The doctors and hospital argued that the traditional rule should apply, the clock for a medical malpractice lawsuit begins when the doctor commits the medical malpractice.
The parents disagreed. The parents argued that the traditional statute of limitations should not apply because a “wrongful birth” lawsuit cannot even be filed until after the birth has occurred. This puts the parents in an odd situation – where the law precludes them from pursuing a medical malpractice lawsuit at the same time their statute of limitations is running against the claim.
Further, the parents argued that because the medical malpractice could not be discovered during the pregnancy by their parents, the clock should not start running until they had an opportunity to discover the inferior care they received. For these reasons, the parents argued, the statute of limitations should start running at the time of birth.
The New York State Court of Appeals agreed with the children’s parents. According to the highest court in the state, the statute of limitations could not start running for this medical malpractice claim at the time of the malpractice because no cause of action actually existed until the alleged “wrongful birth” had already occurred. Therefore, the statute of limitations for a wrongful birth lawsuit in New York will not begin until the child is born.