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Chaffee v. Seslar

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. There are three views regarding whether a plaintiff may recover child-rearing costs for a failed sterilization procedure that results in an unplanned child: (1) the full recovery rule (the parent may recover all child rearing costs); (2) the benefit rule (the parent may recover child rearing costs offset by the benefits incurred by having the child); and (3) the no recovery rule (the parent may not recover any costs).

     

    Facts. Defendant Dr. Chaffee performed a medical procedure on plaintiff at her request to prevent conception of children.  The procedure was not successful and plaintiff bore a healthy child.  She brought a medical malpractice claim for the costs of rearing the child.  Dr. Chaffee moved to strike her claim, the trial court denied his motion, and the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed.

     

    Issue. Whether a woman can bring a claim for the costs of child-rearing against a doctor who negligently performed her sterilization procedure.

     

    Held.  Yes.  Wrongful pregnancy is just like any other medical malpractice cause of action requiring a plaintiff to prove the elements of negligence.  There are three views regarding whether a plaintiff may recover costs associated with rearing an unplanned child: (1) the full recovery rule (the parent may recover all child rearing costs); (2) the benefit rule (the parent may recover child rearing costs offset by the benefits incurred by having the child); and (3) the no recovery rule (the parent may not recover any costs).  In Indiana, courts take the second view.  Child-rearing expenses are available to a plaintiff if she carries her burden on proof at trial that these damages are a natural and probable consequence of the doctor’s breach.  In addition, the doctor is allowed to present evidence related to the benefits the plaintiff has received to offset the amount of recovery.  The court rejected the doctor’s argument that the plaintiff had the duty to mitigate her damages through abortion or adoption, finding those neither reasonable nor ordinary measures as they fall within personal and moral private choice.

     

    Discussion. This case stands for the proposition that courts do not recognize a woman’s legal duty of care in negligence to her unborn child.


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