Can Doctors Be Sued For the Wrongful Death (or Injury) of An Unborn, Pre-Viable Child?

At least nine states allow recovery of damages for the wrongful death (or injury) of a pre-viable baby. Viability refers to the ability of the baby to survive outside the womb, even if only in an incubator.

Two more states, Georgia and Mississippi, permit recovery for the wrongful death (or injury) of an unborn child if the mother has felt the baby move inside the womb prior to the time of the injury. This movement is referred to as “quickening.”

Quickening occurs earlier than viability. Courts in Georgia have recognized that quickening can occur as early as 10 weeks into a pregnancy. One way to prove that quickening has occurred is to produce medical documentation that the mother felt the baby move prior to the injury or death.

On February 17, 2012, the Alabama Supreme Court decided the case of Amy Hamilton, individually and on behalf of her stillborn son v. Dr. Warren Scott et al. The issue in this case was whether under Alabama law a physician can be sued for the wrongful death (or injury) of an unborn, pre-viable fetus. A lower court had decided that Alabama law did not permit lawsuits on behalf of unborn children who were unable to live outside the womb at the time of the death or injury. The Alabama Supreme Court reversed the lower court and recognized that a family who loses an unborn child has the right to sue when their baby dies due to medical negligence, whether or not the child had reached the point of viability.

This welcome decision from the Alabama Supreme Court is part of a broader trend in some states to recognize that unborn children, no matter their stage of development, are persons and should enjoy the full protection of the law.

Georgia courts would do well to look to the Hamilton vs. Scott decision as persuasive authority. I have argued in an earlier blog post that I believe Georgia law should recognize a cause of action for wrongful death or injury to an unborn child at any point in a pregnancy when the death or injury flows from the negligence of a person other than a family member.

I hope you will join me in celebrating the Hamilton vs. Scott decision! 

Sources:

Alabama doctors can be sued for death of unborn, pre-viable child

Hamilton vs. Scott decision

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