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New York Court Affirms Dismissal of Emotional Distress Claims in a Medical Malpractice Case

Losing a child due to medical malpractice can cause great emotional trauma. In some cases, though, despite the grave emotional harm suffered by a parent that loses a child due to incompetent medical care, a parent cannot recover damages for emotional distress, as demonstrated in a recent obstetrician-gynecologist malpractice case in New York. If you suffered the loss of a child or your child suffered an injury at birth due to negligent medical care, you should speak to a dedicated Rochester medical malpractice attorney regarding what claims you may be able to pursue.

Factual History

It is alleged that the plaintiff presented to a hospital with high blood pressure when she was twenty-six weeks pregnant. She was treated by two obstetrician-gynecologists while at the hospital. Two days after she was admitted to the hospital, she was diagnosed with severe preeclampsia and transferred to the second hospital. The plaintiff ultimately filed a medical malpractice claim against both hospitals and the two obstetrician-gynecologists that treated her, alleging their incompetent treatment caused her to deliver a stillborn child. As part of her claim, the plaintiff sought damages for emotional distress. The defendants filed motions for summary judgment as to the emotional distress claims, arguing that the plaintiff could not recover such damages because her child had been born alive. The trial court granted the defendants’ motions, and the plaintiff appealed.

Damages for Emotional Distress in Medical Malpractice Claims in New York

On appeal, the appellate court affirmed the trial court ruling. The appellate court noted that, under New York law, a mother could not recover compensation for emotional distress for alleged malpractice that causes an injury to a fetus in utero, if the fetus is ultimately born alive. The appellate court further explained that a live birth is defined as a complete extraction or expulsion of a child from its mother, where after the separation from the mother, the child breathes, has a heartbeat, or shows any other evidence of life, regardless of the duration of the pregnancy.

In the subject case, the defendants presented evidence that the plaintiff’s child had a spontaneous heartbeat when she was born. While the child was born blue and did not demonstrate any respiratory efforts, she lived for twenty minutes after she was born.  The defendant also introduced testimony from the plaintiff’s deposition in which she stated she was told her child was born alive, as well as an expert report stating it was a live birth, and the child’s birth and death certificates. The appellate court found that in opposition to the defendants’ motions, the plaintiff failed to demonstrate a triable issue of fact as to whether the child was born alive, in that her expert report conceded that the child had a heartbeat at birth and did not state that the child was stillborn. Thus, the appellate court affirmed the trial court ruling.

Meet with an Experienced Rochester Attorney

If you or your child suffered injuries because of inadequate medical treatment, it is in your best interest to meet with an attorney to discuss your potential claims. The experienced obstetrician-gynecologist malpractice attorneys of DeFrancisco & Falgiatano, LLP Personal Injury Lawyers have the skills and resources required to help you seek the best result available under the facts of your case. We can be reached at 585-653-7343 or through the online form to schedule a conference.

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