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Law School Case Brief

Pitre v. Opelousas Gen. Hosp. - 530 So. 2d 1151 (La. 1988)

Rule:

A doctor who negligently fails directly to prevent the conception or birth of an unwanted child, as by negligently performing a sterilization or abortion procedure, or by failing to diagnose or inform the parents that the child might be born with a birth defect - because of a disease or genetic condition -- breaches his duty of care owed to the parents.

Facts:

Plaintiff parents filed an action against defendants, hospital and doctor, alleging that the doctor's failure to properly perform a tubal ligation on the mother led to the birth of their child. The child was born with albinism, but they did not allege that the doctor’s negligence caused it. Rather, the parents sought damages for the childbirth, pain and suffering as well as increased costs of raising a child with albinism as well as their own damages and pain and suffering. The trial court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, but the circuit court of appeals sustained the exception of no cause of action as to the wrongful life claim of the child. Plaintiffs appealed.

Issue:

Does a doctor breach his duty of care to the parents for his failure to protect a child from the risk of being born with albinism?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The court affirmed the appellate court's decision to sustain the exception of no cause of action as to the child's claim for wrongful life and to overrule the exception of no cause of action as to the parents' claim. The court noted that doctor did not owe a duty to the unconceived child to protect her from the risk of being born with albinism because of the extreme difficulty of foreseeing and predicting that particular congenital disorder. The court also found that the parents could not recover for the special expenses regarding the child's deformity, or for emotional and mental distress associated with the child's deformity because these expenses were not the foreseeable consequences of the doctor's alleged negligence.

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