Alabama Supreme Court ruling extends fetal wrongful death liability

A recent ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court clears the way for parents to sue doctors over the death of unborn children, even if the fetus could not survive outside the womb. The ruling reverses an earlier trial court decision that said liability could not be extended to such cases.

The case of Amy Hamilton v. Warren Scott MD involved a pregnant woman who sought medical attention in response to a viral infection. After repeated attempts to obtain treatment, she was told by doctors that the fetus was not in danger. Over a month later, she began to feel ill and returned to her doctor. An ultrasound revealed that the fetus was no longer alive. Hamilton delivered a stillborn infant after undergoing induced labor.

Hamilton filed a lawsuit. The suit argued that her doctors could be held liable under the state’s wrongful death law. The doctors argued that this was not a valid legal claim, and denied that they had acted improperly. Hamilton’s case was dismissed.

On appeal, the State Supreme Court decided in Hamilton’s favor, reversing the earlier decision. According to the opinion issued by the Court, the decision was based on an Alabama criminal statute permitting an offender to be charged for two deaths if the victim was a pregnant woman. Therefore, they said, extending wrongful death liability in tort cases would make the civil code consistent with criminal law.

The full report can be found here.