The Washington State Court of Appeals unanimously upheld a $50 million wrongful birth verdict in favor of a King County couple whose son was born with severe birth defects. The appellate court found the couple’s son’s chromosomal problem should have been spotted by genetic testing the couple specifically asked Laboratory Corporation of America (“LabCorp”) to perform.
While still pregnant with their son, Oliver, Rhea and Brock Wuth worried he might be afflicted by a rare genetic abnormality Brock carried. The Wuths requested prenatal tests conducted by LabCorp for Valley Medical Center, all of which came back clear because of errors by staff of both organizations.
Prior to the pregnancy, the Wuths were told that Brock had a 50 percent chance of passing on a chromosomal genetic problem to his child. Additionally, the Wuths were warned that such a pregnancy would probably end in a miscarriage, and perhaps even harm wife and mother Rhea Wuth. When the Wuths conceived, they knew the odds of having an affected child were substantial, so they asked their healthcare provider to check.
The Wuths decided they did not wish to bring a severely disabled child into the world and were prepared to terminate a pregnancy if the child tested positive for the chromosomal abnormality. LabCorp and Valley Medical Center, however, took that choice away from them.
After the Wuths got the test results back, they finally allowed themselves to get excited about the baby. Brock Wuth explained at trial that he and his wife “felt like, ‘Yay! We made it this time . . . We are going to have a healthy baby.’ And then when he was born, it was clear to me that he wasn't right.”
When Oliver Wuth arrived in 2008, his body was disproportionate and did not function sensibly. His fingers were long, but his hands and feet were tiny. Oliver’s head was bent and turned, and his leg muscles were tight and unable to straighten. The Wuths described their newborn son as “vacant” and “broken.”
Four years later, at the time of trial, Oliver had just learned to walk . . . but running and climbing stairs remained impossible. His brain was underdeveloped and disproportionately small, and Oliver’s language consisted of a few dozen words understood only by those closest to him. He will require a lifetime of demanding care for his chromosomal condition.
The error occurred because a LabCorp staff member failed to get the appropriately detailed Wuth medical history documentation. Additionally, the LabCorp employee failed to ask Valley Medical for further necessary information. In short, LabCorp did not get crucial documentation, and lab staff failed to notice its absence. Notably, the employee was a trainee who left the lab just three days after reviewing the test results at issue.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Todd Gardner believes Valley Medical created an opportunity for error by understaffing its genetic counseling clinic. Garnder argued that both institutions were more concerned with maximizing revenue instead of ensuring their patients were being cared for properly. “It was a complete failure of the checks and balances you’re supposed to have in medicine, and a betrayal of the faith my clients placed in them,” Gardner said. “You cannot let the business of medicine get in the way of the practice of medicine.”
Valley Medical and LabCorp urged the three-judge panel to find the jury award excessive and shocking to the conscience, but the panel declined. The two defendants are required to pay half of the total judgment.
The case is Wuth v. LabCorp and Valley Medical Center in Division One of the Court of Appeals for the State of Washington, Case No. 71497-0-I.