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Emerson v. Magendantz

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Mr. and Mrs. Emerson (Plaintiffs) sued Dr. Magendantz (Defendant) after he performed a sterilization procedure on Mrs. Emerson that was unsuccessful.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    A physician can be liable for negligently performing a sterilization procedure and the limited-recovery rule governs damages that may be awarded.

    Facts.

    Defendant, a gynecological specialist, performed a tubal ligation on Mrs. Emerson. Subsequently, Mrs. Emerson became pregnant and gave birth to a child alleged to have congenital birth defects. Plaintiffs sued Defendant for negligence in performing the sterilization procedure. The trial court certified two questions to the state supreme court: 1) Is there a cause of action under Rhode Island law for negligently performing a sterilization procedure? 2) If so, what damages may be awarded?

    Issue.

    Can a physician be liable for negligently performing a sterilization procedure, and if so, what damages are appropriate?

    Held.

    (Weisberger, C.J.) Yes. A physician can be liable for negligently performing a sterilization procedure and the limited-recovery rule governs damages that may be awarded. The limited-recovery rule generally allows for the recovery of medical expenses for the ineffective procedure, the medical and hospital costs of the unexpected pregnancy, the expense of the subsequent sterilization procedure, loss of wages, emotional distress and loss of consortium resulting from the unexpected pregnancy, and prenatal, delivery, and postnatal medical expenses. This court adopts the limited-recovery rule, but does not allow for the recovery for emotional distress from the birth of a healthy child. This rule also does not allow for the recovery of child rearing expenses for a healthy child. If a child is born disabled, the costs associated with raising the child, above those that would accompany raising a healthy child, are recoverable.

     

    Dissent.

    (Bourcier, J.) I agree that a cause of action lies in the negligent sterilization procedure, but disagree with the majority on the damages to be awarded. A plaintiff should be able to recover for all damages proximately resulting from the negligence, including emotional distress and child-rearing expenses.

    Concurrence.

    (Bourcier, J.) I agree that a cause of action lies in the negligent sterilization procedure, but disagree with the majority on the damages to be awarded. A plaintiff should be able to recover for all damages proximately resulting from the negligence, including emotional distress and child-rearing expenses.

    Discussion.

    The dissent saw the cause of action as a medical malpractice claim. The court here elected to apply the limited-recovery rule for damages, but other jurisdictions allow for full recovery, including the costs of raising the unexpected child.


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