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Court Decides if Parents Can Recover for Mental Distress from Medical Malpractice Case


Plaintiffs allege that the defendant-doctor was negligent (medical malpractice) when he failed to take a proper genealogical history or to properly evaluate the situation. They claim that he was aware that they were both Eastern European Jews and he, therefore, should have known of the high risk that the fetus would suffer from the disease. They contend further that had he made them aware of the risk involved and informed them of the availability of tests to determine the existence of the disease, they would have undergone the tests; and, had they been advised that the fetus was afflicted with Tay-Sachs (birth injury or birth injury accident) they would have aborted the pregnancy.

Can the parents recover from the defendant-doctor for the mental distress and emotional disturbances they suffered as a result of their infant daughter having been born with and eventually succumbing to Tay-Sachs disease, a progressive degenerative genetic disorder affecting the nervous system?

Should the defendant-doctor be held liable for the trauma suffered by the parents allegedly caused by the birth, degeneration and death of their child?

A New York Personal Injury Lawyer said that in order to provide a party who has been injured through the negligence of another with some measure of redress for the wrong inflicted upon him, a rule of law has evolved allowing that party to recover money damages as compensation for the injuries sustained. This, of course, is based on the legal fiction that money damages can compensate for a victim’s injury (personal injury). Although this device is as close as the law can come in its effort to right the wrong, it is still, nevertheless, a fiction for money will not replace or repair the lost or broken limb or remove the disability caused.

By the same token, however, the law has long recognized that it need not provide relief for every injury suffered. Where a party’s negligence is directly responsible for physical injury to another, there is no question but that the injured party may recover both for the actual physical injury sustained and for the concomitant mental and emotional suffering which flow as a natural consequence of the wrongful act. Indeed, an individual can recover for the psychic injuries suffered as a result of another’s negligence where there has been no physical impact if the party seeking recovery was subjected to the fear of physical injury as a direct result of the tortious conduct. Further, there may be recovery for the emotional harm, even in the absence of fear of potential physical injury, to one subjected directly to the negligence of another as long as the psychic injury was genuine, substantial, and proximately caused by the defendant’s conduct.

On the other hand, the law has repeatedly denied recovery for mental and emotional injuries suffered by a third party as a result of physical injuries sustained by another. A Queens Personal Injury Lawyer said that no cause of action exists, irrespective of the relationship between the parties or whether one was a witness to the event giving rise to the direct injury of another, for the unintentional infliction of harm to a person solely by reason of that person’s mental and emotional reaction to a direct injury suffered by another.

Sound policy reasons and unlimited hypothesis present themselves. An NYC Personal Injury Lawyer said it now extends the perimeter of liability would inevitably lead to the drawing of artificial and arbitrary boundaries. Indeed, to allow recovery illustrates the arbitrary nature of such a holding, for it would allow the mother of the deformed child to recover while the father is entitled to no relief. Yet, both parents contend that the injury to them stemmed from the trauma occasioned by viewing the degeneration of their daughter. Can it be said that the mother’s injury was more direct or of a greater magnitude? The law of liability should not turn on hypertechnical and fortuitous considerations of this type.

There can be no doubt that the plaintiffs have suffered and the temptation is great to offer them some form of relief. Ideally, there should be a remedy for every wrong. This is not the function of the law, however, for “every injury has ramifying consequences, like the ripplings of the waters, without end. The problem for the law is to limit the legal consequences of wrongs to a controllable degree”.

The court rules that to afford the parents relief as against the doctor would require the extension of traditional tort concepts beyond manageable bounds.

Accordingly, the complaint is dismissed.

Personal injury cases cover physical, mental and emotional pain resulting from the wrongdoing of another. If you have been harmed because of the wrongful conduct of another, consult with our NYC Personal Injury Attorneys immediately. Our specialized lawyers include: NYC Medical Malpractice Attorneys, NYC Birth Injury Attorneys, etc. At Stephen Bilkis & Associates, your well-being is our priority.

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