Justice was finally served last week for a Connecticut couple who endured the devastating effects of an improperly performed fertility procedure. According to the civil complaint filed with the Hartford District Superior Court, a woman became pregnant with twins in 2013 after being artificially inseminated with donor sperm at the University of Connecticut Health Center (UConn Health). One of her twins died in utero, and the other was born with severe and permanent disabilities. She and her husband alleged that medical negligence on the part of UConn Health caused this tragic outcome. A judge agreed and awarded them $37,621,026.53 in damages.
The couple was represented by Michael J. Walsh of Walsh Woodward LLC, who argued the case before a Hartford Superior Court judge. There were two key issues set forth in the lawsuit: whether UConn failed to obtain the plaintiffs’ informed medical consent during the fertility treatment, and whether UConn failed to provide appropriate prenatal care once pregnancy occurred.
Walsh alleged that UConn Health did not properly advise the plaintiffs of the dangers in using sperm from a donor whose blood had tested positive for cytomegalovirus (CMV). CMV is a common infection that is usually asymptomatic in adults but can have catastrophic effects on a fetus when passed through the placenta. The complaint details how the plaintiffs unknowingly chose sperm from a CMV positive donor for an artificial insemination procedure, and how UConn, in violation of their own written policies and procedures, approved and authorized their selection. The co-plaintiff became pregnant with twins using the CMV positive sperm while reportedly unaware of the dangers it posed to her babies if the virus transferred to her.
Per the complaint, she did indeed contract CMV during the insemination process, and the virus was then passed to her twins in utero. Walsh and the appellants maintained that there were warning signs of the transferal as early as 22 weeks’ gestation, when a prenatal scan revealed anatomical abnormalities consistent with CMV infection. However, UConn apparently failed to further investigate and diagnose these findings, depriving the couple of the choice to terminate the pregnancy before it further ravaged their developing babies. The co-plaintiff ultimately delivered a stillborn girl and an acutely impaired boy at 37 weeks of pregnancy. Testing on both newborns revealed a critical CMV infection.
Walsh and the plaintiffs claimed that this shattering event was the direct result of a dereliction of medical duty on the part of UConn. Clearly, the judge concurred that UConn should be held responsible.
Included in the judgement is $24 million for economic damages, which can encompass past and future household and medical expenses and lost wages. The judge also allotted over $13 million in non-economic damages, which are designed to address the subjective losses resulting from an injury – the pain, suffering, and physical and emotional trauma that are not easily quantifiable. In this case, the distress of delivering a stillborn baby combined with the fact that a surviving child will require lifelong medical care likely contributed to the high dollar decision in their favor.