Pennsylvania Appellate Court Permits Unlimited Medical Malpractice Damages for Abortion


December 4, 2012

As a Philadelphia birth injury lawyer, I was very interested to see an article about the difficult question of how a court should compensate a woman who terminated a pregnancy with serious birth defects even after she thought she'd had her tubes tied. According to the Legal Intelligencer, the Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled in Catlin v. Hamburg that a medical malpractice case involving an abortion should not have the same kinds of damages as a malpractice case involving a healthy live birth. The mother, not named in the article, sued the doctor who performed her sterilization surgery after she got pregnant anyway.. The Superior Court ultimately ruled that damages in the medical malpractice case should not be limited to a six-week "postnatal" period.

In 1999, the woman underwent sterilization surgery at Saint Francis Hospital in New Castle. The doctor who performed the procedure saw that the clip being used on her right Fallopian tube was failing, so he opted to sterilize her a different way by removing part of the tube. He left the clip on the left Fallopian tube, however, and the woman ended up pregnant. After discovering severe birth defects apparently unrelated to the sterilization, she had an abortion. Unfortunately, this led to complications including excessive bleeding and anemia, which led to a hysterectomy in 2001. Her lawsuit against the doctor was dismissed on summary judgment because the lower court agreed that the woman's expert witness had insufficient support for his opinion in his expert report. The Superior Court reversed that.

But perhaps more interestingly, the Superior Court also ruled that the lower court was wrong to draw an analogy between the case and cases involving an unexpected pregnancy that leads to a healthy child. This matters because in such cases, Pennsylvania law permits damages only for the prenatal period and six weeks postnatal, reasoning that the joy and companionship of a child outweigh the costs of an unwanted birth. The panel that decided the case felt this was not a good standard to judge a case involving an abortion, and said potential damages should be unlimited, just like in most medical malpractice cases.

As a Pennsylvania medical malpractice lawyer, I'm pleased with this result. The decision doesn't mean people in this plaintiff's rare position will be awarded unlimited money. Rather, it means they will be able to make their case to a jury and receive whatever damages the jury feels is appropriate, rather than being limited by the rules that apply to healthy but unexpected births. The health care industry and insurance companies would prefer this kind of artificial limit on damages, because they save money when injured plaintiffs are unable to collect everything they have been awarded. That's why Pennsylvania medical negligence lawyers like me suspect it may be appealed again.

If you were injured or lost a loved one because of a medical professional's negligence, don't wait to call Rosenbaum & Associates to tell us your story and learn more about a lawsuit. For a free, confidential consultation, send us an email or call us toll-free at 1-800-7-LEGAL-7.

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