August 29, 2016

There is precedent in Pennsylvania for a lawsuit revolving around a stillborn fetus, as the unborn child’s death was said to be caused by a car accident. The case in question was Gullborg v. Rizzo. It established a precedent within the state for how wrongful death cases after car accidents can proceed.

However, other cases have not always followed the precedent. In one case, a doctor was operating on a woman who was pregnant, and the child passed away. The family tried to sue under the same precedent and lost, as the case was said to be different. This shows just how tricky the laws can be when looking at unborn children.

There is, however, at least the precedent that a family could seek damages for the death of a child, even though he or she had not yet been born, as long as the child was referred to as a “viable fetus” — as happened in the case noted above.

A “viable fetus” is one that would be able to live without being in the womb. For example, many hospitals consider a woman to be at full term at 37 weeks, and that child could usually live, though it may not be born until 40 weeks or later.

Essentially, the court was saying that the child’s potential to be born and grow up was enough to count it, in some senses, as a person already. Even if all of the other people in the car survived, a wrongful death suit could be started. This could theoretically happen in a case in which there were no serious injuries to any of the passengers, but in which the incident itself was enough to cause the death of the fetus.

In complex cases like this, it’s crucial for families to know what precedents are on the books. These can help to determine how laws are interpreted and what damages can be sought.

Source: FIndLaw, “Wrongful Death of the Fetus or Child,” accessed Aug. 29, 2016