Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Smith v. Cote case brief

Smith v. Cote case brief summary
513 A.2d 341 (1986)

Plaintiffs, parent and child, filed a medical malpractice action in the district court of Hillsborough County (New Hampshire) against defendant physicians after they failed to warn her of possible birth defects. Plaintiff sought damages for emotional distress and the medical and educational costs for plaintiff child. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The case was transferred with interlocutory questions.


Parent contended that had she known of the risks that she would have obtained a eugenic abortion. Physicians contended that state law did not recognize causes of action for wrongful birth and wrongful life. Interlocutory questions asked (1) whether state law recognized a cause of action for wrongful birth of a willfully conceived child. (2) Whether state law allowed recovery of damages for emotional distress, extraordinary maternal child care, and the extraordinary medical, institutional, and other special rearing expenses that were necessary to treat the child's impairments. (3) And whether state law recognized a cause of action for wrongful life brought by the child.


  • The supreme court held that: 
  • (1) State law recognized a cause of action for wrongful birth. 
  • (2) The parent was allowed to recover extraordinary medical and educational costs attributable to the child's deformities, but that she could not recover ordinary child-raising costs. 
  • (3) Damages for emotional distress were not recoverable in wrongful birth actions, but that she could recover for tangible losses related to her emotional distress. 
  • (4) The state did not recognize a cause of action for wrongful life.

The supreme court remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings as to parent's wrongful birth claim and child's wrongful life claim against physicians.

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