Shull v. Reid

258 P.3d 521 (2011)

Quick Summary

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Patricia Shull and Brian Shull (plaintiffs) sued Dr. Monica Reid (defendant) over a failure to diagnose a virus during pregnancy, which led to their child being born with severe disabilities. The dispute centered on whether the Shulls could claim damages beyond medical costs related to pregnancy continuation or termination.

The Supreme Court of Oklahoma found that the Shulls could claim damages for extraordinary medical expenses related to their child’s condition due to negligence but not for emotional distress or raising a normal child. The Court reversed the lower court’s summary judgment that had limited damages to pregnancy-related costs.

Facts of the Case

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Patricia Shull and her husband Brian Shull (plaintiffs) brought a medical malpractice lawsuit against Dr. Monica Reid and several other medical professionals and institutions (defendants). The Shulls alleged that the defendants failed to properly diagnose Patricia with a Cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection during her first trimester of pregnancy.

Due to this oversight, the Shulls were not informed of the significant health risks to their unborn child, who was subsequently born with severe complications, leaving the child permanently and completely helpless.

The Shulls contended that had they been aware of the CMV infection and its potential consequences, they would have chosen to terminate the pregnancy. Their claim did not hold the defendants responsible for Patricia’s exposure to CMV or suggest that the infection could have been treated, but focused on the failure to diagnose and inform.

Procedural Posture and History

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  1. The Shulls filed a medical malpractice suit against Dr. Monica Reid and others.
  2. The defendants moved for summary judgment, asserting that the Shulls’ damages should be limited to the medical costs of continuing the pregnancy offset by the costs of termination.
  3. The trial court granted the motion for summary judgment.
  4. The Shulls appealed the decision, resulting in the current review by the Supreme Court of Oklahoma.

I.R.A.C. Format


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Whether the Shulls can claim damages beyond the medical costs associated with continuing the pregnancy versus terminating it, in a wrongful birth and medical malpractice case involving a child born with severe health issues due to an undiagnosed virus during pregnancy.

Rule of Law

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In wrongful birth actions alleging medical malpractice, damages may include extraordinary medical expenses and other pecuniary losses directly caused by the negligence. Emotional distress and loss of consortium are not compensable in such cases. Damages for raising a normal, healthy child are not recoverable, and compensation may only be sought for expenses related to the child’s handicaps.

Reasoning and Analysis

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The Court looked at previous Oklahoma cases and similar cases in Kansas for guidance on wrongful conception involving healthy children. The Court determined that while parents are responsible for supporting any child, they may seek compensation for additional expenses caused by a child’s handicaps as a result of medical malpractice.

The Court also cited federal case law interpreting Oklahoma law that supported recovery for extraordinary expenses due to negligence. Moreover, the Court considered recent Oklahoma legislation that acknowledged wrongful birth actions but restricted damages claims based on the decision not to terminate a pregnancy.

Since this statute was enacted after the birth of the child in this case and lacked retrospective intent, it did not apply to the Shulls’ case.


Conclusion Icon

The Supreme Court of Oklahoma reversed the trial court’s decision, holding that the Shulls may seek damages for extraordinary medical expenses and other pecuniary losses caused by the defendants’ negligence.

Dissenting Opinions

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Justice Kauger dissented, arguing that this question of first impression should go to trial before being considered on appeal. Justices Taylor and Winchester joined in this dissent.

Key Takeaways

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  1. Parents in wrongful birth cases can claim damages for extraordinary costs directly caused by medical negligence related to a child’s handicaps.
  2. Oklahoma law does not allow for recovery of emotional distress or loss of consortium in wrongful birth cases.
  3. Legislation restricting damage claims in wrongful birth cases does not apply retroactively and thus did not limit the Shulls’ claims.

Relevant FAQs of this case

What defines compensable damages in medical malpractice cases?

Compensable damages in medical malpractice cases are monetary awards to cover direct losses and costs incurred due to the practitioner’s negligence. These typically include additional medical expenses, lost income, and sometimes pain and suffering.

  • For example: During a routine procedure, a surgeon’s oversight leads to a patient requiring further surgeries and rehabilitation, resulting in high medical bills and time off work. These financial burdens would be considered compensable damages.

How does the concept of wrongful birth apply to the scope of legal damages?

In wrongful birth cases, legal damages cover the extra care costs and financial impacts directly linked to managing a child’s congenital disabilities that were not diagnosed due to medical negligence.

  • For example: If a prenatal test fails to identify Down syndrome due to a lab error, and the parents would have chosen termination, they could be entitled to claim the additional costs associated with raising a child with this condition.

Are emotional distress and loss of consortium compensable in wrongful birth cases?

No, in wrongful birth cases, emotional distress and loss of consortium are generally not considered compensable damages. Courts focus on tangible economic losses directly caused by the healthcare provider’s negligence.

  • For example: A couple cannot claim compensation for their emotional pain after giving birth to a child with disabilities not detected due to a misdiagnosis, but they can claim expenses related to caring for the child’s disability.


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