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Woman Sues for Wrongful Birth After Failed Sterilization Leads to Child Born with Sickle Cell Disease

469559471An Illinois woman has filed a wrongful birth lawsuit against her doctor, charging that a bungled sterilization procedure led her to give birth to a child with sickle cell disease.  The woman and her husband are seeking compensation for the “extraordinary expenses” they expect to incur to raise the daughter whose birth was the result of a wrongful pregnancy.

Mother sought sterilization because of sickle cell risk

Cynthia Williams and her husband discovered that they both carried the sickle cell trait when their first child was born with the life-threatening disease.  At that time the couple resolved not to have more children.  Four years later, however, Williams became pregnant again while using the rhythm method of birth control.  That child did not suffer from sickle cell disease.

Williams used the birth control pill for a time but stopped when she developed high blood pressure.  In 2008, Williams underwent tubal ligation surgery for the express purpose of permanently preventing her from giving birth to another child with sickle cell disease.  Because Williams had lost her right ovary at age 12, only her left ovary continued to produce eggs.  Cutting the left fallopian tube alone thus should have rendered her sterile.  Unbeknownst to Williams, her surgeon cut the right fallopian tube, leaving the left tube intact.  Williams became pregnant six months later.  In February 2010, her daughter Kennadi was born with sickle cell disease.

Wrongful pregnancy lawsuit

Williams sued, charging that she told the surgeon “that she and her husband were carriers of the sickle cell trait; that they had a son afflicted with sickle cell disease; and that they desired permanent sterility to avoid conceiving another child with sickle cell disease.”  According to the lawsuit, Williams’ surgeon scheduled a bilateral tubal ligation procedure following their discussion.

The lawsuit seeks to recover compensation for Williams’s personal injury, emotional distress, and lost wages.  In addition, Williams and her husband request an award for “the extraordinary expenses that Plaintiffs will incur in raising Kennadi Williams to the age of majority.”

The surgeon sought to dismiss the case, arguing that Illinois law barred plaintiffs in a wrongful pregnancy lawsuit from recovering compensation for the “extraordinary expenses” of raising a child born as a result.  The trial court refused to dismiss the lawsuit but asked the appeals court to review the decision because it raised a legal issue that Illinois courts had not yet resolved.

Appeals court decision

On February 26, the appeals court affirmed the trial judge’s ruling.  The court held that the birth of a child with sickle cell disease was “a natural and probable result” of the surgeon’s negligent performance of the sterilization procedure.  The court also ruled that the surgeon should have foreseen that any negligence in his surgery could lead to the birth of a child suffering from sickle cell disease.  As a result, plaintiffs could seek to recover for the costs of raising such a critically ill child.

Williams, who is now 44 years old, said “I love Kennadi with all my heart, and that’s the honest-to-God truth. But it’s been a life change for everybody –- my whole family.”

The wrongful birth lawsuit is now pending in the trial court.