A 20-year-old woman in the UK has sued her doctor for allowing her to be born. No, the reason for this extreme action is not frivolous. She is a disabled equestrian show jumper and has won the right to millions of pounds after claiming she should not have been born.
The spina bifida victim was born with a condition where a baby’s spine and spinal cord fail to develop in the womb. She sued her mother’s doctor in a unique wrongful conception court case. She says the doctor failed to advise her mother to take folic acid, which minimises risk of the defect.
The judge hearing the case agreed and said if the mother had been given the right advice, she might have delayed conception until she had taken the essential supplement.
The ruling is a landmark one as it fixes responsibility for failing to point out risks. The only ray of sunshine here is the grit and determination of the show jumper who plans to compete in the Paralympics despite her limited mobility.
There are many inspirational stories of people overcoming physical handicaps but many of us do not fully realise the effort it must have taken to break through the barrier of pain and rise above their limitations. I am reminded of the mail I receive every year from the Foot and Mouth artists association, with beautiful cards and bookmarks made by disabled artists. In return, I am requested to make a small donation which I readily do.
Frivolous lawsuits are common such as the case of Stella Liebeck who was awarded $2.9 million after getting burnt by a hot McDonald’s coffee. She was the poster girl for ridiculous lawsuits and her case shocked many at the time but the instance of filing ridiculous claims has become common.
In today’s litigious environment, some cases stand out for their absurdity. In 2013, a teenager measured his foot-long sandwich and found it was actually only 11 inches. Three years later, the company was settling a class-action suit, promising to make its rolls 12 inches. However, the judge dismissed the settlement and the entire case.
‘Red Bull gives you wings’
Red Bull’s famous slogan ‘Red Bull gives you wings’ got the company into trouble. A class-action lawsuit accused the company of using misleading advertisements and making false claims. Red Bull settled out of court. But did its customers actually think they would fly after imbibing this drink?
Come to think of it, my father could have sued an international airport when he slipped on the escalator. When he was told this, his reaction was that of a pragmatic man. He pointed out that he couldn’t possibly ask someone else to pay him for being clumsy. Now if more people reacted similarly and acknowledged they could be at fault, there would be fewer frivolous lawsuits.
Coming back to the case of the equestrian show jumper, it was certainly not a frivolous claim. She had suffered as a result of the birth defect simply because the doctor had failed to advise her mother of the risks and the precautions that could be taken. There was a simple solution but the mother not being told what she could do to minimise risks had resulted in the equestrian’s quality of life being severely compromised.
Young parents of today are amazingly knowledgeable about many subjects simply because they do a lot of research online and do not hesitate to ask their doctors to confirm their findings. When the doctor realises that his patient has done his homework, he will make sure that he has the correct answers.
It’s like being in a classroom. A teacher has to be prepared to answer any query, however irrelevant you might consider it to be. Never put down a student or patient as their opinion of you as an expert will be seriously impaired.
Vanaja Rao is a freelance writer based in Hyderabad, India