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In a wrongful pregnancy action, Ohio recognizes the limited damages rule that limits the damages to the pregnancy itself and does not include child-rearing expenses. The extent of recoverable damages is limited by Ohio's public policy that the birth of a normal, healthy child cannot be an injury to her parents.
On July 27, 1983, appellant, Ruth Johnson, filed a claim against appellees, University Hospitals of Cleveland ("University Hospitals") and three doctors employed by University Hospitals. Johnson alleged that she had undergone a tubal ligation for sterilization purposes at University Hospitals which was negligently performed by the three appellee-doctors on March 4, 1982. As a result, Johnson was not sterilized, and she became pregnant in July 1982, delivering a baby girl on April 27, 1983. In her complaint, Johnson requested damages for pain and suffering arising out of the pregnancy and birth, for damages for injury to her person caused by the increased care, responsibility and work involved in raising a child, and for child-rearing expenses. The arbitration panel recommended a finding in favor of Johnson against University Hospitals and one of the physicians. However, the panel found that Johnson was not entitled to any child-rearing expenses since any monetary expense is "* * * substantially outweighed by the offsetting value of her [the child's] love, aid, comfort and society. * * *" The panel assessed all Johnson's remaining damages at $ 12,500. Appellees moved the trial court to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment as to the claim alleged for costs to support the child until the age of majority. The trial court granted appellees' motion on the grounds that "under Ohio law there is no legally cognizable claim for wrongful birth or wrongful pregnancy and as a matter of law plaintiff [Johnson] may not recover the 'additional cost and expense to properly care for and raise' a healthy child to the age of majority." On appeal, the court of appeals held that Ohio recognizes a claim for wrongful pregnancy, but limited the recoverable costs to "damages arising from the pregnancy itself * * *, i.e., delivery fees, prenatal care, loss of spousal consortium and services during pregnancy, pain and suffering during pregnancy and child birth, etc."
Can the parent of a healthy, normal child, born subsequent to a negligently performed sterilization operation, recover, as an element of damages, the expenses of raising the child?
The Court rejects the "no recovery" rule as being one that is clearly in conflict with the traditional concepts of tort law. Certainly, in the instant case, there was a duty and a breach of that duty which was the proximate cause of damage. What damages should be allowed is the more difficult question. Likewise, the Court is opposed to following the benefits rule because of the impossibility of a jury placing a price tag on a child's benefits to her parents. The Court is not in the business of placing a value on a smile or quantifying the negative impact of a temper tantrum. The Court is not qualified to judge whether a child might become President or a hopeless derelict. The Court cannot pretend to know what the future may hold -- and neither can or may a jury. Furthermore, The Court is not persuaded to adopt the full recovery rule because the strict rules of tort should not be applied to an action to which they are not suited, such as a wrongful pregnancy case, in which a doctor's tortious conduct permits to occur the birth of a child rather than the causing of an injury.
After reviewing the four theories of recovery, the Court finds the limited damages theory is the most persuasive rule. In Ohio, a tort recovery may not be had for damages which are speculative. Allowing a jury to award child-rearing costs would be to invite unduly speculative and ethically questionable assessments of such matters as the emotional effect of a birth on siblings as well as parents, and the emotional as well as the pecuniary costs of raising an unplanned and, perhaps, unwanted child in varying family environments. Additionally, these speculative expenses for child rearing in a "wrongful pregnancy" action were not recognized at common law, just as damages were not recognized in an action for "wrongful death." The Court believes that if such expenses are to be recognized, it is the role of the General Assembly to establish guidelines in a "wrongful pregnancy" action as the legislature has done in allowing damages in "wrongful death" actions. Thus, in a "wrongful pregnancy" action, Ohio recognizes the "limited damages" rule which limits the damages to the pregnancy itself and does not include child-rearing expenses. The extent of recoverable damages is limited by Ohio's public policy that the birth of a normal, healthy child cannot be an injury to her parents.