It is not very often that we hear about wrongful birth / wrongful life lawsuits, particularly those that end in such a high jury award. Recently in Washington State, the parents of a boy born with a severe genetic abnormality filed and won a lawsuit against LabCorp and Valley Medical Center for negligently handling their son’s samples. Our medical malpractice lawyers report on this case and its massive verdict below.
The parents in this case, Rhea and Brock Wuth, had a healthy son in 2002 and wanted more children. A relative of Brock’s, however, suffered from severe seizures and other ailments that confined her to a wheelchair. The relative’s illness was found to be associated with an unbalanced translocation of chromosomes, which is genetic. Brock underwent genetic testing and found he had similar genetic abnormalities and could pass it on to future children.
The Wuths still wanted more children and sought out a genetic counselor. In 2007, Rhea became pregnant after several years of miscarriages. The Wuths made it clear to their doctors that they did not wish to carry a child with unbalanced translocation to term. Their obstetrician ordered genetic counseling alongside a prenatal test called chorionic villus sampling (CVS), which tests the placenta for genetic abnormalities.
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CVS can reveal whether a fetus has a chromosomal condition like Down syndrome or cystic fibrosis, among other conditions. The health center where the Wuths underwent this testing, Valley Medical Center in Renton, Washington, scheduled the CVS test but did not schedule any genetic counseling for the couple.
Normally, genetic counselors must fill out all testing order forms. Because no counselor was scheduled for the Wuth’s CVS, a Valley Medical Center assistant filled out the order form. The doctor who conducted the CVS testing later testified that he knew LabCorp (the testing company) would need Brock’s genetic results to properly perform the tests, so he copied Brock’s documentation and gave them to the medical assistant to send to LabCorp.
As it turned out, Brock’s documents were never sent to LabCorp. When the fetus’ CVS samples were sent in, it was assigned to a cytogenetic technician in training who had minimal experience testing fetal tissues. Nevertheless, this technician in training was the only person assigned to review Wuths’ sample despite LabCorp policy requiring a supervisor.
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The technician in training did not follow-up with Valley Medical Center or the Wuths, and did not see that the sample was specifically tested for unbalanced translocation. He did not perform any additional testing on the sample such as the FISH test, which is much more sensitive to this type of abnormality and which the Wuths requested. Ultimately, the final report sent back to Valley Medical indicated the unborn child had a normal male karyotype.
The Wuths were overjoyed at the normal results and Rhea carried their son to term. When he was born, however, it was immediately obvious that something was very wrong. His head was bent and turned and his muscles and tendons were so tight his legs would not straighten, among other abnormalities. After further genetic testing, it was confirmed that he suffered from unbalanced translocation chromosomes.
By the time he was five, the little boy suffered severe impairment to his vision, judgement and fine motor skills. His brain was small and underdeveloped, and his speech was extremely limited. He could not walk up stairs or run. The Wuths filed suit against LabCorp, Valley Medical, and the doctor who ordered the CVS testing for wrongful life in 2010.
The trial lasted six weeks and the jury found LabCorp and Valley negligent, awarding $25 million in damages to the little boy and $25 million to his parents. Both defendants appealed; however, the appeals court upheld the $50 million verdict.
Our team of medical malpractice attorneys accepts claims of serious injury, ailment or death from incorrect or improperly administered testing. We accept cases nationwide, and we never charge any attorneys’ fees unless we win you a verdict or settlement. Our case reviews are always free, confidential, and no-obligation.