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Prenatal Misdiagnosis

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Learn More About Prenatal Misdiagnosis and Medical Malpractice

What is Prenatal Misdiagnosis?

The joy of having a baby can quickly turn to anxiety and despair when parents learn that their child has a significant birth defect or a genetic disorder that will create permanent disability and require life-long care. The physical and financial hardships that parents are faced with in these situations is often overshadowed by the emotional pain they experience witnessing their child’s suffering, or imagining the pain and hardship their child could face in the future.

In many instances, birth defects and genetic diseases can be easily identified during early pregnancy, giving parents the opportunity to choose whether or not to allow their pregnancy to continue. In New Jersey, if a birth defect or genetic disease is not identified during pregnancy simply because a medical care provider was negligent, a wrongful birth claim can be made.

More Information on Prenatal Misdiagnosis

Standards of Care for prenatal diagnosis of birth defects and genetic diseases

It is widely accepted throughout the United States that obstetricians must offer certain prenatal screening tests to every pregnant patient, regardless of family history or age, including but not limited to:

Genetic counseling and screening tests for carrier status

A careful history should be taken from all pregnant women seeking to identify risk factors for genetic disorders. Information should include the health status and genetic history of parents and relatives, as well as information about ethnic and racial background. Blood tests should be offered for the following genetic disorders depending on whether or not either parent is at increased risk of carrier status:

  • Cystic Fibrosis (all parents)
  • Canavan Disease (Ashkenazi-German or Eastern European-Jewish descent)
  • Sickle Cell Disease (African, Indian, Middle Eastern, or Mediterranean descent)
  • Tay-Sachs Disease (Ashkenazi Jewish, French Canadian, or Cajun descent)
  • Thalassemia (Mediterranean or Southeast Asian descent)

Nuchal Translucency or First Trimester Screening

Between 11 and 14 weeks of pregnancy, an ultrasound examination that measures the clear space (translucent) at the back of the neck (nuchal) of the developing fetus can be helpful in detecting Down syndrome. In combination with a maternal blood test, Nuchal translucency can help determine whether further testing should be performed.

Quadruple screen

Between the 15th and 20th week in pregnancy, maternal blood is drawn and analyzed for the presence of four pregnancy-related proteins and hormones: hCG (human chronionic gonadotropin), AFP (alpha-fetoprotein), DIA (dimeric inhibin-A), and UE3 (estriol). Abnormally high or low levels of the above are associated with an increased risk of Down syndrome, spina bifida and other neural tube defects. It is important for medical care providers to properly assess fetal age and maternal weight in determining whether or not test results are normal. If the quadruple screen result is abnormal, patients should always be offered further testing, such as a targeted ultrasound or amniocentesis, so that a diagnosis can be made with certainty.


Between the 16th and 22nd week of pregnancy, an additional ultrasound is given to check fetal anatomy. At that time, the fetal neck, abdomen (stomach, kidneys, bladder), head (brain), heart, spine and limbs are carefully examined for signs of abnormalities. This examination should be performed by an experienced medical professional aware of the accepted standards of care. A wide range of fetal abnormalities can be detected with a competent and thorough examination, including but not limited to spina bifida and other neural tube defects, major heart and brain defects, Down syndrome, and missing organs and bones.

Your rights in the event of a Prenatal Misdiagnosis ( Wrongful Birth )

In order to recover in such a claim, the parents must prove that a medical provider’s negligence prevented them from knowing that there was an increased risk that the fetus had a major birth defect or genetic condition. They must also prove that they would have likely terminated the pregnancy if they had known there was a problem. By proving this, parents are in no way questioning the love and devotion they have for their child. Parents are simply acknowledging that if told of the disease or defect during pregnancy, they would have chosen not to undertake the emotional hardships and financial responsibility involved in parenting a child with a lifelong and severe disability. Since the child would most likely not have been born if it were not for the medical provider’s negligence, these claims are often referred to as wrongful birth claims.

The New Jersey Supreme Court has held that if a wrongful birth claim is proven, the negligent medical provider must provide monetary compensation for special medical expenses and other extraordinary expenses related to the child’s condition for the duration of the child’s lifetime. In addition, compensation must be provided for the emotional distress endured by parents.

Common Mistakes made in prenatal misdiagnosis, wrongful birth cases:

Every potential prenatal misdiagnosis and wrongful birth claim requires a complete investigation as to whether or not a medical provider was negligent. Common mistakes in such cases include:

  • Failure to offer quadruple screen (or any AFP screening) at the appropriate gestational age
  • Failure to take a competent and thorough genetic screening history of both parents
  • Failure to offer appropriate testing at the appropriate gestational age
  • Misplaced or overlooked prenatal screening results by obstetrical care providers
  • Improper laboratory interpretation of prenatal screening testing
  • Improperly dated pregnancies
  • Improper interpretation of prenatal screening results by obstetrical care providers
  • Inadequately performed or interpreted standard ultrasound to survey fetal anatomy

How We Can Help

Unfortunately, many children with birth defects and genetic diseases will require a lifetime of expensive medical care. Many of these children will also need to be followed by several different types of specialists and participate in ongoing physical and occupational therapy. All of these children deserve to benefit from the very best and most advanced treatment available. Unfortunately, there is often a big difference in the treatment and services that private medical insurance or such programs as Medicaid will cover and the most up to date treatment. If your child has a birth defect(s) or genetic disease that you suspect may have been detectable during pregnancy, getting the compensation that you deserve may be the only way to provide the best care and services possible.

New Jersey medical malpractice lawyers Michael L. Weiss, Esq. and Robert E. Paarz, Esq. have presented over 30 prenatal misdiagnosis and wrongful birth injury cases to juries, helping those families to obtain the financial assistance needed to lessen or even eliminate the financial burden caused by birth defects and genetic disorders. They are committed to using their experience and knowledge to help families obtain fair compensation after having been negligently deprived of their constitutional right to choose whether to continue a pregnancy involving a fetus with genetic disorders or birth defects.

If you would like to discuss the possibility of pursuing a claim, contact Weiss & Paarz, P.C. today.


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