Emotional Distress of Parents of Stillborn Child

Emotional Distress of Parents of Stillborn Child found Valid by Indiana Supreme Court

In a landmark case filed by the parents of a stillborn child, the Indiana Supreme Court sets precedence for future wrongful death suits when a full term infant is delivered stillborn as a result of medical malpractice. The court ruled that Indiana's Child Wrongful Death Act (CDWA) extends to cover the emotional distress of Heidi Brown and Steven Spangler, the plaintiffs in the case.  Their child was delivered stillborn in 2003, and the parents claim that the child's death was a result of medical malpractice, and therefore the ensuing emotional distress suffered from the loss of the child is included in the lawsuit as a valid claim since it was a direct result of the medical malpractice of the nurse midwife and her employers (the defendants in the case). 

The Indiana Child Wrongful Death Act and Medical Malpractice Stillbirths

Previously, the claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress was denied, as the court ruled that the child was unborn at the time of death, and therefore could not be termed a "child". The defendants argue that since the child was not born alive, the child was never termed as a patient, and therefore the parents' distress is a derivative of the child's death, not the death of a patient, and is therefore not a valid claim under the Medical Malpractice Act. 

The latest ruling overturned this statement and found the parents' claims of emotional distress to be valid since the parents witnessed the birth of the infant immediately after its death. The court ruled that this act is in keeping with prior adapted rulings where family members were permitted to file an emotional distress suit when they witnessed the death or traumatic immediate results of the death of a family member, claiming damages for the ensuing emotional distress caused by negligent infliction of emotional distress. 

The judgment stated, "We hold that parents who have suffered a stillbirth of their child are not precluded by the CWDA from seeking emotional distress damages in a negligence action."

The Future of Emotional Distress Suits in Medical Malpractice Cases

Spangler v. Bechtel is a landmark case that will likely be cited as supportive evidence for future claims of negligent infliction of injury or emotional distress when medical malpractice is a factor in the case. This case could open doors for grieving parents who experience pre-term or full-term stillbirths, even if the child dies in utero, as a result of the medical malpractice of a healthcare provider. 

This finding does not extend to all parents who experience a stillbirth, but does provide precedence for those who experience such a loss as a result of the negligence of another who is trusted with the medical care and treatment of the mother and unborn child. 

If you have experienced a stillbirth as a result of medical malpractice, you may be eligible for compensation for your emotional distress under Indiana law. Contact the experienced personal injury lawyers at Sweeney Law Firm to discuss your case today. There is no cost or obligation for us to evaluate your case. The Sweeney Law Firm works on a contingency fee basis. There is never a fee unless a recovery is made for you.