The court acknowledged it’s the first time it’s had to decide such a case centered on the rights of a child during the time it is a fetus, but it cited similar conclusions in cases from Massachusetts and Wisconsin. The justices warned that it would be a mistake for anyone to try to apply the rationale behind the ruling to the abortion debate.
The ruling comes in a case centered on the death of Gray, who was found dead in a suburban Des Moines hotel room in May 2010. An autopsy showed he died of an overdose of morphine and fentanyl, a synthetic pain killer similar to morphine. He was 38.
His wife, Brenna Gray, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Dr. Daniel Baldi and several medical care providers claiming Paul Gray wasn’t properly monitored during drug addiction treatment. She sued for loss of spousal consortium and on behalf of her daughter who wasn’t born until several months after Gray died.
Lower courts dismissed the case, saying Brenna Gray filed the lawsuit more than two years after her husband’s death, exceeding the state’s statute of limitations for such lawsuits. The high court upheld the dismissal for Brenna Gray’s lawsuit Friday, agreeing that she waited too long, but it ruled that their daughter, identified only as O.D.G., can pursue damages.
Iowa’s statute of limitations law provides exceptions for minor children, saying any child under the age of eight must file a claim no later than the minor’s 10th birthday. Arguments centered on whether a fetus who is eventually born meets the statute’s definition of a minor. Baldi’s attorneys argued that a child of “negative age” cannot be considered a child under the age of eight.
The court concluded that Paul Gray’s daughter experienced the loss of her father’s support, companionship, aid, affection, comfort and guidance after she was born, not before.
“Whatever deprivation of consortium O.D.G. is currently experiencing is no less real just because she did not experience it while in utero,” the court said.
In warning against extrapolating something from their decision in the context of the abortion debate, the justices said they were setting aside “all the philosophical arguments about the status of the unborn. Those arguments are not at issue here,” wrote Justice Daryl Hecht for the court.
“Any reader who scours this opinion’s interstices for implied sentiments about any context beyond the narrow parental consortium question presented undertakes a fool’s errand,” he wrote.
All but one of the court’s seven justices agreed with the opinion. The seventh, Justice Brent Appel, didn’t take part in the case.
Eric Hoch, the attorney for Baldi and other providers, declined to comment.
The case goes back to Polk County District Court in Des Moines where Gray’s daughter may pursue loss of parental consortium damages.
The attorney for Brenna Gray and her daughter did not immediately respond to a message.
Paul Gray was a founding member of the heavy metal band formed in 1995 in Des Moines. The group, known for wearing jarring masks, won a Grammy Award in 2006 for a single from their second album, “Iowa.”