Can You Sue for Wrongful Life? Jeff Sheppard, Attorney in New Jersey Weighs In

Posted on: May 22, 2018
NEW JERSEY. In the movies, it’s seen as heroism. A patient suffers cardiac arrest or stops breathing and doctors heroically move into action to bring the patient back to life. However, not all patients want to be brought back. Older patients and patients with terminal illness may have medical directives on file instructing doctors not to perform CPR or other life-saving techniques. These forms are known as MOLST or POLST forms and are stronger than advanced directives because they go directly in a patient’s file while they are seeking treatment for chronic illness, terminal illness, or conditions related to old age.

What happens, then, when doctors don’t get the memo, and try to bring a patient back after cardiac arrest? In some cases, doctors performing CPR can break ribs. Patients might be prescribed high doses of epinephrine. They may be administered electric shocks. These life-saving techniques, in a young patient, would be considered standard practice, but for a frail, or terminally-ill patient, they become questionable.

Some patients’ families are fighting back when a hospital violates their wishes. According to the New York Times, some patients’ families are pursuing wrongful life lawsuits, when doctors ignore advanced directives. Keeping a patient on life support and administering medication after cardiac arrest can sometimes be incredibly costly. When doctors violate a patient or family’s wishes, it can become a question of who foots the bill if the patient survives CPR and life-saving treatments.

Courts have historically not acted favorably on wrongful life cases, but some courts are starting to see that quality of life, unnecessary medical care, and some treatments can actually result in more harm than good. In cases where medical directives were clear, or where a family member has a clear advanced directive to make medical decisions and these orders are ignored, families may have some rights should they choose to pursue a lawsuit.

In fact, in some cases, families have received substantial checks to pay for medical care that a loved one did not want. Hospitals and nursing homes can both face penalties if they ignore a patient’s orders on file.

According to CBS News, other families are suing obstetricians for wrongful birth when these doctors fail to identify potentially disabling conditions in the womb. Many conditions can be identified early. Patients who are informed early are better able to make decisions about how to proceed. Some choose to abort and others choose to carry on, but many families and mothers believe they have a right to know. While these lawsuits are far more controversial, they have been won in New Jersey. Some families say they would have had an abortion had they known early on about a child’s condition. Other families have won these cases in court, winning money to cover their children’s ongoing long-term medical expenses. Not all states recognize the wrongful birth argument, but New Jersey is one that does.

If you feel that you were not informed about your child’s medical condition before birth, or if a loved one’s DNR was ignored by doctors or nursing home staff, you may have rights under the law. Jeff Sheppard, Esq. is a personal injury attorney in New Jersey, who may be able to help you and your family. Visit our website at to learn more about your options and rights.

Jeff Sheppard, Esq.
750 White Horse Pike
Hammonton, NJ 08037
Phone: 609-605-2717