Court Rules on Fetus It's a Person in Lawsuits Claiming Wrongful Death
Terry Ganey Post-Dispatch Jefferson City Bureau Chief, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
The Missouri Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that damages could be sought in the wrongful death of a fetus from the moment of its conception.
The 4-3 ruling does not apply to abortion cases.
The court's decision interprets a 1986 statute passed by the Missouri Legislature that says, "the life of each human being begins at conception." The law also says all "unborn children" from the moment of conception have all the rights and privileges of any other person.
According to the court, the wording means that in cases of the wrongful death of a fetus prior to its viability, parents could seek damages against those who caused the death of the fetus.
In the past, the court has allowed wrongful death claims in cases of a fetus's death, but only in cases where it is considered viable - generally at six months' gestation.
Tuesday's decision marked the first time in Missouri that a nonviable fetus had been considered a person for wrongful death claims.
Sandra Johnson, a law professor at St. Louis University, said the decision was important in a legal sense only in wrongful death cases. "If you are pursuing a wrongful death claim, it's a terribly significant case," Johnson said. "It opens an entirely new route for claims."
Wrongful death cases are brought by relatives of victims of accidents seeking monetary damages for the loss of loved ones.
This case stemmed from a car-truck collision in Madison County in northern Missouri in 1990. The accident killed Vicki Richards and her 4-month old fetus.
Jason Conor, the father of Richards' fetus, sued the trucking company that owned the truck. …