Citation. Procanik v. Cillo, 97 N.J. 339, 478 A.2d 755, 1984)
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Brief Fact Summary.
The Plaintiff, Peter Procanik (Plaintiff), was born with multiple birth defects, the result of his mother’s German Measles that the Defendants, Dr. Cillo and other doctors (Defendants), negligently failed to diagnose. Plaintiff sued Defendants claiming general damages for emotional distress and for an impaired childhood because the Defendants negligently deprived his parents of the choice of terminating the pregnancy. Plaintiff also claims special damages for the extraordinary medical expenses he will incur.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
An infant plaintiff may recover special damages for the extraordinary medical expenses he will incur, but may not recover general damages for emotional distress or for an impaired childhood.
During the first trimester of Mrs. Procanik’s pregnancy with the Plaintiff, she consulted the Defendants who informed her that she had been recently been diagnosed with measles. He ordered a test for German measles and the resulted were indicative of a past infection of Rubella. The Defendants negligently interpreted these results and told Mrs. Procanik that she had become immune to German Measles as a child. Actually, the past infection disclosed by the test was the German Measles that caused Mrs. Procanik to consult Defendants. Mrs. Procanik allowed her pregnancy to continue, not realizing that an accurate diagnosis of German Measles during pregnancy was likely to result in congenital rubella syndrome for her unborn child. Plaintiff was born with multiple birth defects. Plaintiff brought suit, claiming that the doctors negligently deprived his parents of the choice of terminating the pregnancy. He requested general damages for his pain and suffering and for his parents’ impa
ired capacity to cope with his problems. Plaintiff also seeks special damages for the extraordinary expenses he will incur due to his condition. The Law Division granted Defendants’ motion to dismiss, and the Appellate Division affirmed. The Supreme Court of New Jersey granted certification.
May an infant recover general damages for emotional distress or for an impaired childhood caused by a doctor’s negligent deprivation of his parent’s choice of terminating the pregnancy?
* May an infant plaintiff recover as special damages for the extraordinary medical expenses attributable to his affliction?
No. Yes. Judgment of the Appellate Division is affirmed in part, reversed in part, and the matter is remanded.
* Originally, a doctor’s negligence in diagnosing a condition that might cause her to give birth to an impaired child was not actionable by either the parent or the child. This was due to the court’s inability to reach damages when attempting to value life with impairments against the nonexistence of life itself. Another factor in early decisions was a reluctance to recognize the availability of abortions.
* Later cases addressed these issues. In Berman [Berman v. Allan, 80 N.J. 421, 404 A.2d 8 (1979)] the court refused to allow a parent’s claim for medical expenses to be incurred during the childrearing under the theory that such an allowance would permit the parents to reap all the benefits of childhood while the defendant paid all of the expenses. More recent cases allowed for the parents’ right to compensation for the extraordinary expenses of raising an impaired child.
* In the present case, analysis of the action begins with whether the Defendants owed a duty to the Plaintiff. The Defendants do not deny such a duty and the Court finds that one exists. The Court also assumes the Defendants were negligent in treating the mother and that the negligence deprived the parents of the choice of terminating the pregnancy.
* Policy considerations have led this court to decline to recognize any cause of action for an infant’s wrongful life. The problem is that the Plaintiff claims not that he should not have been born with defects, but rather that he should not have been born at all. This Court finds that there is no rational way to compare a lack of existence with the pain and suffering of Plaintiff’s impaired existence in order to all recovery for his emotional distress or diminished childhood. However, this Court does find that recovery of the cost of extraordinary medical expenses is recoverable by either the parents or the infant, but not both. The infant can wait until his majority to recover medical expenses.
Unlike wrongful death suits for unborn child, few jurisdictions allow actions for wrongful