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Womack v. Buchhorn

Supreme Court of Michigan
Jun 1, 1971
384 Mich. 718 (Mich. 1971)

Summary

rejecting the common-law disallowance of recovery for negligently inflicted prenatal injury

Summary of this case from Woodman v. Kera LLC

Opinion

No. 10 April Term 1971, Docket No. 52,534.

Decided June 1, 1971.

Appeal from Wayne, Benjamin D. Burdick, J., and from Court of Appeals prior to decision. Submitted April 8, 1971. (No. 10 April Term 1971, Docket No. 52,534.) Decided June 1, 1971.

Complaint by Cedric C. Womack, by his next friend, Ollie Womack, for damages for prenatal brain injuries suffered in an automobile collision. Summary judgment for defendant. Plaintiff appealed to the Court of Appeals and applied to the Supreme Court for leave to appeal prior to decision by the Court of Appeals. Leave granted. Judgment vacated and cause remanded.

Calvin Klyman, for plaintiff.

Plunkett, Cooney, Rutt Peacock (by John D. Hayes and Stanley A. Prokop), for defendant.


This case involves a common-law negligence action brought on behalf of an eight-year-old surviving child for prenatal brain injuries suffered during the fourth month of pregnancy in an automobile accident. The matter comes to this Court on grant of summary judgment for defendant by the Circuit Court solely on the basis of Newman v. Detroit (1937), 281 Mich. 60, and leave to appeal to this Court prior to decision by the Court of Appeals.

The only issue in this case is whether a common-law negligence action can be brought on behalf of a surviving child negligently injured during the fourth month of pregnancy.

The Newman case was an action under the survival act (3 Comp Laws 1929, §§ 14040-14060) involving a child that survived three months after birth from prenatal injuries suffered 22 days prior to birth when his mother was a passenger on a Detroit streetcar. The trial judge denied a motion to dismiss and the case came before this Court by an appeal in the nature of certiorari. The decision in Newman was based principally on the fact that "the overwhelming weight of authority is * * * contrary" to allowing recovery for prenatal injuries (p 63). The case concluded "Plaintiff has no cause of action under the common law or any statute" (p 64).

Newman cites the following authority: "In some inferior courts where decisions were reversed in the appellate courts and in Kine v. Zuckerman [1924], 4 Pa. Dist. County Rep. 227, recovery was allowed for prenatal injuries. However, the overwhelming weight of authority is to the contrary. Dietrich v. Northampton [1884], 138 Mass. 14 (52 Am. Rep. 242); Walker v. Railway Co. [1891], 28 L.R. 69 (Ireland); Allaire v. St. Luke's Hospital [1898], 76 Ill. App. 441, affirmed in 184 Ill. 359 ( 56 N.E. 638, 48 L.R.A. 225, 75 Am. St. Rep. 176); Gorman v. Budlong [1901], 23 R.I. 169 ( 49 A. 704, 55 L.R.A. 118, 91 Am. St. Rep. 629); Buel v. United Railways Co. [1913], 248 Mo. 126 ( 154 S.W. 71, 45 L.R.A. [N.S.] 625, Ann. Cas. 1914C, 613); Lipps v. Milwaukee Electric Ry. Light Co. [1916], 164 Wis. 272 ( 159 N.W. 916, L.R.A. 1917B, 334); Stanford v. Railway Co. [1926], 214 Ala. 611 ( 108 So. 566); Nugent v. Railway Co. [1913], 154 App. Div. 667 ( 139 N.Y. Supp 367), appeal dismissed in 209 N.Y. 515 ( 102 N.E. 1107); Drobner v. Peters [1921], 232 N.Y. 220 ( 133 N.E. 567, 20 A.L.R. 1503); Magnolia Coca Cola Bottling Co. v. Jordan [1935], 124 Tex. 347 ( 78 S.W. [2d] 944, 97 A.L.R. 1513)" pp 63, 64.

Since Newman has been decided, medical science has probably advanced more in one generation than in the previous 100 years or more. Legal philosophy and precedent have moved in response to scientific and popular knowledge.

When this Court decided Newman in 1937, there were ten jurisdictions other than Michigan denying recovery for prenatal injuries and three allowing it. Today 27 American jurisdictions allow recovery. Federal district courts have upheld recovery in two other jurisdictions and there is favorable dictum by the state supreme court in still another jurisdiction. Only one denies recovery.

ALABAMA: Stanford v. St. Louis-San Francisco R. Co. (1926), 214 Ala. 611 ( 108 So. 566); ILLINOIS: Allaire v. St. Luke's Hospital (1900), 184 Ill. 359 ( 56 N.E. 638); MASSACHUSETTS: Dietrich v. Northampton (1884), 138 Mass. 14 (52 Am Rep 242); MISSOURI: Buel v. United R. Co. (1913), 248 Mo 126 ( 154 SW 71); NEW YORK: Drobner v. Peters (1921), 232 N.Y. 220 ( 133 NE 567, 20 ALR 1503); OHIO: Krantz v. Cleveland, Akron, Canton Bus Co. (1933), 32 Ohio NP NS 445; RHODE ISLAND: Gorman v. Budlong (1901), 23 R.I. 169 ( 49 A 704); TEXAS: Magnolia Coca Cola Bottling Company v. Jordan (1935), 124 Tex 347 ( 78 S.W.2d 944, 97 ALR 1513); WISCONSIN: Lipps v. Milwaukee Electric Railway Light Company (1916), 164 Wis. 272 ( 159 N.W. 916); IRELAND: Walker v. Great Northern R. Co. (1891), Ir LR 28 CL 69.

See cases cited in the annotation at 10 ALR2d 1054, 1064: LOUISIANA: Cooper v. Blanck (La App, 1923), 39 So.2d 352; PENNSYLVANIA: Kine v. Zuckerman (1924), 4 Pa DC 227; CANADA: Montreal Tramways Company v. Leveille (1933), Can Sup Ct 456 (4 DLR 337).

The 27 jurisdictions allowing recovery for prenatal injuries are divided into four categories: a) those which have allowed common-law negligence actions to surviving children (13); b) those which have allowed wrongful death actions on the rationale that a viable fetus could recover under the applicable wrongful death act (10); c) Massachusetts, which has held that a non-viable fetus was a person within the meaning of the Massachusetts wrongful death act; d) those which in actions under survival type wrongful death statutes have held that the injured unborn child could have brought a common-law negligence action had he survived (3).
In the following jurisdictions a surviving child has been held to have a common-law right of action for negligently inflicted prenatal injuries:
CALIFORNIA: Scott v. McPheeters (1939), 33 Cal.App.2d 629 ( 92 P.2d 678) (conceived unborn child deemed a person by statute where necessary to protect its interest subsequent to birth); DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: Bonbrest v. Kotz (1946), 65 F. Supp. 138; GEORGIA: Tucker v. Howard L. Carmichael Sons, Inc. (1951), 208 Ga. 201 ( 65 S.E.2d 909); Hornbuckle v. Plantation Pipe Line Company (1956), 212 Ga. 504 ( 93 S.E.2d 727); ILLINOIS: Amann v. Faidy (1953), 415 Ill. 422 ( 144 N.E.2d 412) (wrongful death action) extended to allow common-law recovery by surviving child injured while he was a one month old fetus in Daley v. Meier (1961), 33 Ill. App.2d 218 ( 178 N.E.2d 691); MARYLAND: Damasiewicz v. Gorsuch (1951), 197 Md. 417 ( 79 A.2d 550); NEW HAMPSHIRE: Bennett v. Hymers (1958), 101 N.H. 483 ( 147 A.2d 108); NEW JERSEY: Smith v. Brennan (1960), 31 N.J. 353 ( 157 A.2d 497); NEW YORK: Woods v. Lancet (1951), 303 N.Y. 349 ( 102 N.E.2d 691); OHIO: Williams v. Marion Rapid Transit, Inc. (1949), 152 Ohio St. 114 ( 87 N.E.2d 334); OREGON: Mallison v. Pomeroy (1955), 205 Or. 690 ( 291 P.2d 225); PENNSYLVANIA: Sinkler v. Kneale (1960), 401 Pa. 267 ( 164 A.2d 93); RHODE ISLAND: Sylvia v. Gobeille (1966), 101 R.I. 76 ( 220 A.2d 222); WASHINGTON: Seattle-First National Bank v. Rankin (1962), 59 Wn.2d 288 ( 367 P.2d 835).
In the following jurisdictions a wrongful death action has been allowed on the rationale that a fetus which was viable at the time the injury occurred could recover under the applicable wrongful death act:

DELAWARE: Worgan v. Greggo Ferrara Inc. (1956), 50 Del. 258 ( 128 A.2d 557); KANSAS: Hale v. Manion (1962), 189 Kan. 143 ( 368 P.2d 1); KENTUCKY: Mitchell v. Couch (Ky App, 1955), 285 S.W.2d 901; LOUISIANA: Cooper v. Blanck (La App, 1923), 39 So 2d 352 (statute conferred right of action on parents for death of a child); MISSISSIPPI: Rainey v. Horn (1954), 221 Miss. 269 ( 72 So.2d 434); MISSOURI: Steggall v. Morris (1953), 363 Mo 1224 ( 258 S.W.2d 577); SOUTH CAROLINA: Hall v. Murphy (1960), 236 S.C. 257 ( 113 S.E.2d 790); TENNESSEE: Shousha v. Matthews Drivurself Service, Inc. (1962), 210 Tenn. 384 ( 358 S.W.2d 471); TEXAS: Leal v. C.C. Pitts Sand and Gravel, Inc. (Tex, 1967), 419 S.W.2d 820; WISCONSIN: Kwaterski v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company (1967), 34 Wis.2d 14 ( 148 N.W.2d 107).
MASSACHUSETTS allows an action for wrongful death of a non-viable fetus (3-1/2 months), holding that a non-viable fetus is a "person" within the meaning of the Massachusetts wrongful death act. Torigian v. Watertown News Co., Inc. (1967), 352 Mass. 446 ( 225 N.E.2d 926).
In the following jurisdictions in actions brought under survival type wrongful death statutes, it was held that the injured unborn child would have been able to bring a common-law negligence action had he survived:
CONNECTICUT: Prates v. Sears, Roebuck and Company (1955), 19 Conn. Sup. 487 ( 118 A.2d 633); MINNESOTA: Verkennes v. Corniea (1949), 229 Minn. 365 ( 38 N.W.2d 838, 10 ALR2d 634); NEVADA: White v. Yup (1969), 85 Nev. 527 ( 458 P.2d 617).

IOWA: Wendt v. Lillo (ND Iowa, 1960), 182 F. Supp. 56; WEST VIRGINIA: Panagopoulous v. Martin (SD W Va, 1969), 295 F. Supp. 220.

NORTH CAROLINA: Stetson v. Easterling (1968), 274 N.C. 152 ( 161 S.E.2d 531); the North Carolina Supreme Court opined that the prenatally injured child "if he had lived, could have maintained an action to recover damages on account of injuries negligently inflicted upon him when en ventra sa mere," but held no cause of action since the North Carolina death act required proof of "pecuniary injury" and there was no sufficient allegation thereof.

ALABAMA: Stanford v. St. Louis-San Francisco R. Co. (1926) 214 Ala. 611 ( 108 So. 566).

Numerous text writers have also condemned the old rule denying recovery for prenatal injuries, e.g., Prosser, Torts (3d ed), § 56, p 355, 2 Harper and James, Torts, § 18.3, pp 1028-1031. See also the articles cited in Prosser, Torts (3d ed), § 56, p 355, footnote 35.

Significantly, seven of the nine jurisdictions relied on by our Court in Newman in 1937 have changed their position. This leaves only Alabama and Ireland of those originally cited by this Court still denying recovery. As for Alabama of the six cases from other jurisdictions relied on by the Alabama Court in Stanford (fn. 5), all of which were also relied upon by this Court in Newman, all have now been overruled.

Jurisdiction Cases Cited by Newman Reversed by

Illinois Allaire v. St. Luke's Amann v. Faidy Hospital (1900), 184 (1953), 415 Ill 422 Ill. 359 ( 56 N.E. 638) ( 114 N.E.2d 412)

Massachusetts Dietrich v. Northampton Keyes v. Construction (1884), 138 Mass. Service, Inc. (1960), 14 (52 Am Rep 242) 340 Mass. 633 ( 165 N.E.2d 912); Torigian v. Watertown News Co., Inc. (1967), 352 Mass. 446 ( 225 N.E.2d 926)

Missouri Buel v. United R. Co. Steggall v. Morris (1913), 248 Mo 126 (1953), 363 Mo 1224 ( 154 S.W. 71) ( 258 S.W.2d 577)

New York Drobner v. Peters Woods v. Lancet (1921), 232 N.Y. 220 (1951), 303 N.Y. 349 ( 133 N.E. 567, 20 ALR ( 102 N.E.2d 691) 1503)

Rhode Island Gorman v. Budlong Sylvia v. Gobeille (1901), 23 R.I. 169 (49 (1966), 101 R.I. 76 A 704) ( 220 A.2d 222)

Texas Magnolia Coca Cola Leal v. C.C. Pitts Sand Bottling Company v. and Gravel, Inc. (Tex, Jordan (1935), 124 1967), 419 S.W.2d 820 Tex 347 ( 78 S.W.2d 944, 97 ALR 1513)

Wisconsin Lipps v. Milwaukee Kwaterski v. State Electric Railway Farm Mutual Automobile Light Company (1916), Insurance Company 164 Wis. 272 (159 NW (1967), 34 Wis. 916) 2d 14 ( 148 N.W.2d 107)

Illinois, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, Rhode Island and Wisconsin (see fn 9).

This Court must therefore face forthrightly whether the law of Newman should continue to stand on the basis of stare decisis or whether Michigan should recognize what present day science, philosophy and the great weight of the law in this country consider the better and the sound rule. Some 20 years ago the New York Court of Appeals was also faced with the same problem in overruling precedent against allowing recovery for negligent infliction of prenatal injuries. Woods v. Lancet (1951), 303 N.Y. 349 ( 102 N.E.2d 691) overruling Drobner v. Peters (1921), 232 N.Y. 220 ( 133 N.E. 567, 20 ALR 1503) (one of the cases relied on by this Court in Newman in 1937). There Judge Desmond speaking for the court said:

"What, then, stands in the way of a reversal here? Surely, as an original proposition, we would, today, be hard put to it to find a sound reason for the old rule. Following Drobner v. Peters ( supra) would call for an affirmance but the chief basis for that holding (lack of precedent) no longer exists. And it is not a very strong reason, anyhow, in a case like this. Of course, rules of law on which men rely in their business dealings should not be changed in the middle of the game, but what has that to do with bringing to justice a tort-feasor who surely has no moral or other right to rely on a decision of the New York Court of Appeals? Negligence law is common law, and the common law has been molded and changed and brought up-to-date in many another case. Our Court said, long ago, that it had not only the right, but the duty to reexamine a question where justice demands it, * * *." (p 354.)

This Court has followed the same legal philosophy. For example, in Bricker v. Green (1946), 313 Mich. 218, 232, Justice BUSHNELL speaking for the Court quoted and adopted the following language of the Wisconsin Supreme Court:

"`Were it a rule of property, we should certainly apply to it the rule of stare decisis. But it is not a rule of property. It is a pure judicial decree relating to liability for negligence, and the court would not for a moment give countenance to an argument that a wrongdoer relied upon it. We are, therefore, at liberty to change the rule in the needs of justice, and to conform to the overwhelming majority rule.' Reiter v. Grober, 173 Wis. 493 ( 181 N.W. 739, 18 A.L.R. 362)."

See also the consideration of the matter by Chief Justice THOMAS M. KAVANAGH in Parker v. Port Huron Hospital (1961), 361 Mich. 1, 10, 11.

In the light of the present state of science and the overwhelming weight of judicial authority, this Court now overrules Newman. We hold that an action does lie at common law for negligently inflicted prenatal injury. We adopt the reasoning and result of the New Jersey Supreme Court (which also involved a common-law action):

"And regardless of analogies to other areas of the law, justice requires that the principle be recognized that a child has a legal right to begin life with a sound mind and body. If the wrongful conduct of another interferes with that right, and it can be established by competent proof that there is a causal connection between the wrongful interference and the harm suffered by the child when born, damages for such harm should be recoverable by the child." Smith v. Brennan (1960), 31 N.J. 353, 364, 365, ( 157 A.2d 497, 503).

"Candor compels acknowledgment that the decision rendered today is a new ruling." Griffin v. Illinois (1956), 351 U.S. 12, 25 ( 76 S Ct 585, 100 L Ed 891, 55 ALR2d 1055) (concurring opinion of Justice Frankfurter). In the interests of justice and fairness therefore "we are persuaded to hold that the new rule applies to all pending and future cases, as in Bricker v. Green (1946), 313 Mich. 218." Daley v. LaCroix (1970), 384 Mich. 4, 14.

The judgment entered in the circuit court is vacated and the cause remanded for future proceedings in conformity with this opinion. The costs of this appeal will abide the final decision of this case.

T.M. KAVANAGH, C.J., and BLACK, ADAMS, T.E. BRENNAN, T.G. KAVANAGH, and SWAINSON, JJ., concurred with WILLIAMS, J.


Summaries of

Womack v. Buchhorn

Supreme Court of Michigan
Jun 1, 1971
384 Mich. 718 (Mich. 1971)

rejecting the common-law disallowance of recovery for negligently inflicted prenatal injury

Summary of this case from Woodman v. Kera LLC

referring to advances in medical knowledge in the context of a suit for prenatal injuries

Summary of this case from Jorgensen v. Meade Johnson Laboratories, Inc.

In Womack v. Buchhorn, 384 Mich. 718, 725, 187 N.W.2d 218 (1971), the Michigan Supreme Court overturned the long-standing prohibition against recovery for prenatal injuries and allowed a common law negligence action on behalf of an afterborn child for brain injuries that were sustained in an automobile accident which occurred when the child was a nonviable, four month old fetus.

Summary of this case from In re Air Crash Disaster at Detroit

In Mack, a California Court of Appeals declared that the public has a right of access and may exercise the incidents of navigation on any waters capable of being navigated by oar- or motor-propelled small craft.

Summary of this case from Bott v. Natural Resources Commission

In Womack, we overruled Newman v. Detroit (1937), 281 Mich. 60, and held that a common-law action does lie in this state for prenatal injuries.

Summary of this case from O'Neill v. Morse

setting forth a detailed discussion of holdings of other jurisdictions regarding a negligence action for prenatal injuries brought on behalf of a surviving child

Summary of this case from L.K.D.H. v. Planned Parenthood of Alabama

In Womack, supra, the Supreme Court overturned the long-standing prohibition against recovery for prenatal injury to permit a common-law negligence action on behalf of an afterborn child for brain injuries suffered in an automobile accident when the child was a nonviable, four-month-old fetus.

Summary of this case from Jarvis v. Providence Hosp

In Womack an action was brought on behalf of an eight-year-old surviving child for prenatal injuries suffered during the fourth month of pregnancy.

Summary of this case from Toth v. Goree

In Womack v Buchhorn, supra, the Michigan Supreme Court joined the majority of American jurisdictions that allow a person to recover for prenatal injuries.

Summary of this case from Toth v. Goree
Case details for

Womack v. Buchhorn

Case Details

Full title:WOMACK v. BUCHHORN

Court:Supreme Court of Michigan

Date published: Jun 1, 1971

Citations

384 Mich. 718 (Mich. 1971)
187 N.W.2d 218

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