Jury Rules in Unwanted Kid Case

Tuesday, May 16th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PHOENIX (AP) — A jury rejected a woman's claim that her doctors should pay for raising her child because they did not diagnose the pregnancy in time for her to have an abortion.

In her civil malpractice lawsuit, Ruth Ann Burns, 29, had sought $143,210 — the amount she said it will cost to raise her now 2-year-old child until age 18 — and $40,000 in lost wages.

In Maricopa County Superior Court, a jury of six men and three women took about 25 minutes to reach an unanimous verdict Monday in favor of the defendants, Drs. Leroy Kareus and David Kauffman.

``This child is a very happy, healthy 2-year-old,'' said Winn Sammons, Kareus' attorney. ``The plaintiffs should go on and consider themselves blessed.''

After the verdict was announced, Burns and the baby's father, David Gomez, held hands quietly and she briefly leaned her head on his shoulder. Neither they nor jurors would talk with reporters.

The case drew attention for its fundamental struggle over the right of a woman to have an abortion and the intrinsic value of raising a child, even one that wasn't planned. About two dozen protesters gathered at the Capitol on Monday evening to criticize Burns for bringing the suit.

From March to June 1997, Burns went to Kareus and Kauffman for fatigue, breast swelling and abdominal pain. A March pregnancy test was negative and the doctors checked her for fibrocystic breast disease and cervical pre-cancer. She had neither.

Burns' pregnancy was not detected until she had an ultrasound when she was 16 or 17 weeks pregnant. That is early enough to have a second trimester abortion legally and the doctors' attorneys argued Burns was well aware of abortion services, having terminated three earlier pregnancies.

But few doctors in the state perform abortions after 14 to 15 weeks, though they are legal until around 23 weeks.

Burns' attorney, David Hume, said Kareus and Kauffman stymied Burns' efforts to arrange an abortion and convinced her it was too late.

``So David and Ruth Ann now have a son,'' Hume said during closing arguments. ``We don't know how this child rearing enterprise is going to turn out. The odds are it's going to be a difficult journey. It's a journey they had no choice in.''

Kauffman and Kareus said they were glad the trial was over.

``To say that I feel this case was misguided is something of an understatement,'' Kauffman said. Kareus said he thought Gomez ``thought he'd make a lot of money on something he was unhappy with.''

Hume said the lawsuit was an attempt to hold the doctors accountable for their actions, and ``to characterize this as a money grab is preposterous.''