Turpin v. Sortini

31 Cal. 3d 220, 182 Cal. Rptr. 337, 643 P.2d 954 (1982)



In authorizing recovery in "wrongful birth" actions by the parents, courts have recognized (1) that these are expenses that would not have been incurred "but for" the defendants' negligence and (2) that they are the kind of pecuniary losses which are readily ascertainable and regularly awarded as damages in professional malpractice actions.


Plaintiff, a child born with hereditary deafness, brought a "wrongful life" action seeking general and special damages from defendants, doctor, hospital, and others, who participated in the misdiagnosis of the hereditary defect in her sister thereby depriving her parents of the choice to conceive her. The lower court dismissed plaintiff's claim. The state supreme court reversed and remanded the case.


Could plaintiff child born with hereditary deafness recover general and special damages against doctors and hospital who misdiagnosed her hereditary defect thereby depriving her parents of the choice to conceive her?




Plaintiff child could not recover general damages for being born impaired as opposed to not being born at all, but could recover special damages for the extraordinary expenses necessary to treat the hereditary ailment. While it was not necessarily true that the value of life always exceeded nonlife, the claim for general damages failed because it was impossible to determine whether plaintiff had suffered an injury in being born impaired, rather than not being born, and it was impossible to assess general damages. The court remanded the matter because if defendants' negligence was the proximate cause of plaintiff's present medical expenses, then the basic liability principles of Cal. Civil Code § 1714 would hold defendants liable for the cost of such care.

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