Medical Malpractice and Personal Injury Law Blog

Alabama Overturns Lower Court Ruling on Previable Child Wrongful Death Action

Posted by Briggs Bedigian | Mar 30, 2017 | 0 Comments

A woman in Alabama has brought forth a medical malpractice lawsuit, alleging that the wrongful-death of her unborn child was caused by a doctor who ordered the administration of a cytotoxic drug, a medication used to treat extrauterine pregnancies.

Kimberly Stinnett's obstetrician, Dr. William Huggins, informed her that she was pregnant on May 9, 2012. On May 11, Kimberly experienced cramping in her abdomen and called Dr. Huggins' office. Since it was a weekend, Dr. Huggins was not available and she was contact by Dr. Kennedy. Dr. Kennedy told Kimberly to go to the emergency room, which she did. Once admitted to the hospital, an ultrasound was ordered and revealed intrauterine fluid in the endometrial cavity. Dr. Kennedy became concerned that Kimberly was experiencing an out of uterus pregnancy – something Kimberly had gone through before.

The next day, Dr. Kennedy performed a surgical procedure to see if her suspicions of an out of uterus pregnancy were true. The results were negative but Kennedy has stated that she was still suspicious of such a pregnancy. Kimberly contends that Dr. Kennedy told her that an out of uterus pregnancy was ruled out but there was still a possibility of a miscarriage. A day later, Dr. Kennedy ordered a cytotoxic drug, something used to treat out of uterus pregnancies, be administered to Kimberly. The drug was meant to end the pregnancy. When Dr. Huggins returned, he evaluated Kimberly, performed an ultrasound, and felt that the failing pregnancy was possibly the result of the cytotoxic treatment. Kimberly had a miscarriage a few weeks later though it was never disputed that the fetus could not have survived outside of the uterus.

Kimberly filed her lawsuit and based it on claims that Dr. Kennedy was negligent in administering the cytotoxic treatment since it was not proven that her unborn child was outside of the uterus. Kimberly claimed that the treatment caused the death of her unborn child.

The trial court dismissed the case, finding the law in Alabama prohibits the extension of civil liability under the Wrongful Death Act to licensed physicians who through mistake or unintentional error cause the death of a previable fetus. Kimberly appealed the dismissal. Based on its previous holdings, the Alabama Supreme Court held that the trial court erred in dismissing Stinnett's claim alleging wrongful death based on the death of her previable unborn child. The Court found the trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of the doctor on lack-of-proof-of-causation grounds. During the time of that ruling, the Supreme Court was deciding an analogous case and found that Alabama's wrongful-death statute allows an action to be brought for the wrongful death of any unborn child, even when the child dies before reaching viability. Once that case was applied to the plaintiff's appeal, the trial court's ruling was reversed and the case was remanded.

Medical malpractice can have devastating effects that last a lifetime. If you have been injured by a physician's neglect, attorneys Charles Gilman and Briggs Bedigian will work to get you the full compensation to which you are entitled. Call 800-529-6162 today or contact them online for a free case evaluation. They handle cases in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.

About the Author

Briggs Bedigian

H. Briggs Bedigian (“Briggs”) is a founding partner of Gilman & Bedigian, LLC.  Prior to forming Gilman & Bedigian, LLC, Briggs was a partner at Wais, Vogelstein and Bedigian, LLC, where he was the head of the firm's litigation practice.  Briggs' legal practice is focused on representing clients involved in medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. 

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