Utah Supreme Court Rules Late Term Unborn Fetus Has Wrongful Death Protections

Flickinger Sutterfield & Boulton is pleased to announce a significant decision recently issued by the Utah Supreme Court that protects the rights of late-term unborn children. According to the state's high court, Utah code allows wrongful death actions to protect minor children and extends this protection to an unborn child. Though the statute does not specifically define "minor child," the justices have interpreted this to include an unborn child or fetus. Chief Justice Christine Durham said statute "would allow for a wrongful death action as soon as the child is conceived," as reported by Deseret News. The Utah Supreme Court's ruling is consistent with 37 other states that have similar protections for unborn fetuses.

The court's decision will have a great impact throughout the state. In the ruling, the court discussed the reasons behind the decision. As maintained by Justice Lee who wrote one of the high court's opinions:

"If 'minor child' did not extend to a fetus, tortfeasors would be
better off killing a fetus in the womb (in which case they would
escape liability) than to merely injure it (in which case they would
be liable for the injuries or post-birth death of a fetus if it happens to
be born alive, however fleeting its sojourn outside the womb). It
would be bizarre, indeed, to hold that the greater the harm inflicted
the better the opportunity for exoneration of the defendant."

CARRANZA v. U.S.

This ruling originated from a claim by Amelia Sanchez and her husband Miguel Carranza against their care provider for the stillborn death of their son. Ms. Sanchez was already considered a high-risk pregnancy. She believed she was experiencing symptoms of fetal distress; however, her doctor negligently ignored her symptoms and request for an induction. Days later, the fetus had no heartbeat and Ms. Sanchez delivered a stillborn son.

For the grieving parents, the court's ruling is a step in the right direction to hold negligent parties responsible for their actions and allow parents the compensation they are entitled to for their loss. As stated by Kevin J. Sutterfield, one of the attorneys for Sanchez and Carranza, he is pleased with the high court's decision.

"We believe the negligence of the defendant prevented our clients from having a healthy child. We're pleased the court has recognized that a full-term preborn child is a person for purposes of wrongful death," Sutterfield said.

Brett Boulton, a partner at Flickinger Sutterfield & Boulton who also represented the plaintiff's was quoted in the Deseret News to state that he and his clients were happy with the ruling. "We feel like it reflects the values of the state," he said, noting that a number of other states have already come to similar conclusions about unborn children. "It's about time for Utah."

Boulton said the court "got it right" and that the ruling will allow for some reparation for families who lose unborn children due to negligence.