In the event of the birth of a child who suffers from congenital defects, which birth is a result of an unwanted pregnancy arising out of a negligently performed sterilization procedure, where there is a physically or a mentally handicapped child, special medical and educational expenses beyond normal rearing costs should be allowed. The financial and emotional drain associated with raising such a child is often overwhelming to the affected parents and the special costs associated with bringing up a handicapped child would be recoverable.
Plaintiff parents filed an action against defendant physician for the negligent performance of a sterilization procedure that resulted in a pregnancy and birth. The physician filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a cause of action. The Superior Court, Providence County (Rhode Island), certified two questions, asking whether such a cause of action existed and, if so, what was the measure of damages. The court answered the first question by stating that Rhode Island did recognize a tort for negligent performance of a sterilization procedure. The court answered the second question by adopting the limited recovery rule of damages, modified to exclude emotional distress for a healthy child but allowing substantial additional damages for the birth of a handicapped child.
Did plaintiff have cause of action against the defendant?
The court addressed an issue of first impression and joined the overwhelming majority of states that recognized a cause of action for negligent performance of sterilization procedures whether performed on the wife or on the husband. The court then considered the elements of damages allowed by other states and adopted a modification of the limited-recovery rule followed by the majority, under which parents could recover the medical expenses of the ineffective sterilization procedure, the medical and hospital costs of the pregnancy, the expense of a subsequent sterilization procedure, loss of wages, loss of consortium to the spouse arising out of the unwanted pregnancy, and medical expenses for prenatal care, delivery, and postnatal care but, as modified, no recovery would be allowable for emotional distress arising out of the birth of a healthy child. The court further held that emotional distress could be recovered for a physically or mentally handicapped child and that if the physician had actual or implied notice of the likelihood of the probability of such a birth, the physician could be liable for the child-rearing costs and living expenses of the child for its life.