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Simpson v. Roberts

August 5, 2020

In Simpson v. Roberts, plaintiff received a $7 million jury verdict for injuries sustained in utero due to an unsuccessful amniocentesis. During post trial motions, defendant argued that plaintiff’s claim fell under the Virginia Medical Malpractice Act and therefore damages should be reduced pursuant to the statutory cap. Plaintiff contended that because her injuries were sustained in utero, she was not a natural person at the time of the negligence and, as such, was not a “patient” as defined by the Act. The trial court agreed with the defendant and reduced damages to $1.4 million. On appeal to the Supreme Court of Virginia, the Court addressed the following question: was the plaintiff a patient within the meaning of the Act? The Court held that the plaintiff was considered a “patient” under the Act even though she was a fetus at the time medical services were rendered. More specifically, the Court stated that the test for determining patient status under the Act was not whether the plaintiff could maintain a cause of action at the time of the negligence. Rather, the statutory test is, “if death does not ensue, [could the] person subsequently have maintained a personal injury action.” Since plaintiff was a live birth and could maintain a subsequent personal injury action, she fell under the definition of a “patient” and the Act controlled the damages awarded.