Legislation on a new class of plaintiffs, that of representatives of unborn fetuses, has passed the General Assembly and is awaiting a signature from the governor that may or may not come.
Senate Bill 647 would change the wrongful death statute in Virginia to allow the mother of a fetus killed before birth a cause of action. That means that there would be a law in place that one could say was broken, giving one cause of action to sue for damages. When a fetal death is “caused by the wrongful act, neglect, or default of any person, ship, vessel, or corporation,” the mother could have the right to bring an action “against such tortfeasor,” reads the bill.
Some fear that the bill would create a group of new lawyer specialists, those who would focus on fetal death lawsuits, and experts who would specialize in testifying about the cause of death in court.
Supporters of the bill claim that it would allow a path for grieving family members of a dead unborn child to obtain compensation when the death occurs as a result of domestic abuse, or the wrongful action of someone who is outside of the household.
Richmond General District Judge Robert Pustilnik is convinced that the new bill would cause a plethora of new cases, pointing out that it has no limits as to who could be sued in a fetal death court case other than the woman carrying the baby.
“Over time, I think that this bill will create more litigation than anything that has come out of the Legislature in many years,” writes Pustilnik.
The bill has also been criticized for perhaps working as an anti-abortion measure, part of a number of such measures that were pushed throughout the 2012 Assembly.
Delegate Gregory Habeeb, R-Salem helped form the wording of the bill, and contends that it was indeed intended to open up the law to new claims, saying, “literally thousands of women are losing babies because of domestic abuse in the home or the wrongful-acts of others outside the home, and they are almost universally going un-compensated for that.”
The bill, says Habeeb, utilizes a definition of “fetal death” that does not include abortion, which is why, he claims, both pro-choice and pro-life supporters have yet to speak out over it.
For doctors especially, Pustilnik believes, that if the bill passes it will be their “nightmare, should a patient miscarry while under the doctor’s care.”
Other possible defendants will be plentiful as well. Pustilnik writes, “if a woman loses a baby after an automobile accident, a fight, after tripping over something in a friend’s home, a cause of action would be created.”
If the bill passes, lawsuits could be conducted on behalf of the natural mother, or in the case of death or disability, in the name of her guardian.
We will keep you updated as this story unfolds.
If you have suffered because of a wrongful death in Virginia, you need the veteran wrongful death lawyers at Parrish Law Firm, PLLC to help you get proper compensation for your pain and suffering. Call us now at 703-906-4229, or email us for a free case consultation.