Pregnant women get in car accidents. After a car accident everyone worries about the baby. Pregnancy is stressful. A potential injury adds a whole new layer or worry.
So what happens when the baby is born and turns out to be healthy—can the mother (and father) still recover damages? Definitely. Washington law has recognized the right to recover for this kind of stress for almost 90 years. Elliott v. Arrowsmith (149 Wash. 631, 272 P. 32 (1928).
The opinion in Elliott does more than just state a rule of law. The facts of Elliott are illuminating and provide a reference point for calculating what claims for anxiety and stress are worth.
Ms. Elliott was involved in a motor vehicle accident. She was pregnant at the time of the accident
Before the trial, Ms. Elliott safely delivered a normal, healthy child. No attempt was made to prove any injury to the unborn child. At trial, counsel asked Ms. Elliott if she suffered because of fear about a miscarriage. She responded that she worried “an awful lot”. That was the extent of her testimony. Based on this testimony, the jury returned a verdict of $5,000. The Supreme Court upheld the verdict.
Total inflation between 1928 and 2016 was 1,403 percent. Something that cost $5,000 in 1928 would cost $70,177 today. (To provide additional perspective, a Ford Model A Roadster cost $435 in 1928.) The verdict in Elliott was about 11.5 times the cost of a new car.
How much does a Tesla cost today? About $100,000? Using the proportions in Elliott, a claim for stress or anxiety over a potential injury to an unborn child would top $1,000,000. That may seem like lot of money. But many expecting parents would pledge that amount to know that their child was going to be healthy.