Please note that this is not US specific. I think that most Western countries apply similar principles when it comes to paying damages and I am looking for an answer that is as generic as possible.

Two adults with a certain defect to their vision (let's say astigmatism) decide to produce an offspring. The child then gets the same visual defect. Why can't the child sue her/his parents for damages to cover the costs for glasses and other aids (s)he needs to correct this problem?

I have asked around among lawyers and similar and they mostly try to avoid to answer.

The reason I ask about a visual defects is that, AFAIK, it isn't affected by lifestyle choices (e.g., diet, physical activity etc), it is purely genetical (yes, there are certainly exceptions but ignore them for now). Proof of burden is therefore a non-issue, it is all a matter of "causation" (I think that is the correct term).

The chain of events that lead up to the costs incurred by the child begins when the adult parents, voluntarily, decide to procreate and nothing the child, or any outsider, can do can prevent the child from getting this visual defect and having additional costs for glasses and similar aids.

The general principle in "tort law" is that if you perform some action that incurs a cost on someone you have to pay damages. It doesn't have to be intentional: if you go biking and for some reason fall and damage a parked car, you have to pay - even though you clearly intended not to fall. The only thing that matters is that there is a clear connection ("causation") between your action (biking and falling) and the damage to the car.

Isn't there a clear connection between the parents' decision to procreate and the costs the child has for glasses? And shouldn't the child therefore be able to sue for damages?

(I have of course bigger fish to fry than the costs for glasses, my question concerns the general principles, not the cost of the actual glasses.)

Edit: I wrote that it was not US specific but I understand that people who know law mostly know the law in one specific country so country specific answers are welcome, i.e., "In UK it would work like this", "In Italy it works like this" etc. I am interested in both the general principles but also local implementation.

  • 4
    “The general principle in "tort law" is that if you perform some action that incur a cost on someone you have to pay damage” doesnt that statement equally apply to just having children in general...?
    – user28517
    Apr 8, 2021 at 9:34
  • 5
    even if this line of argument were correct, the result (few people can afford to have children, strong economic incentive to practice eugenics) would be against public policy. This quickly gets into issues with human dignity and basic human rights. In western society, only very narrow prohibitions in that area are recognized, e.g. against incest.
    – amon
    Apr 8, 2021 at 9:50
  • @amon Why is it more in the interest of the public that someone that is completely defenseless is forced to take the cost for this? This is a typical example of a negative externality en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Externality . People could buy an insurance to cover this risk.
    – d-b
    Apr 8, 2021 at 10:39
  • 1
    Who would sell that insurance? The gift of life might be considered ample compensation for any negatives of having that life...
    – user28517
    Apr 8, 2021 at 10:50

1 Answer 1


No duty of care is owed to non-persons

Before a child is conceived (and, depending on jurisdiction, for some time after) that potential child is not legally a person. Therefore, no duty of care is owed to them at the time of the alleged negligence.

  • 2
    So if I negligently build a dangerous playground, and 5 years later a 3-year-old gets hurt there, I'm in the clear, since the kid wasn't alive at the time I was being negligent?
    – MWB
    Apr 8, 2021 at 11:39
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    I don't believe that. I think there are plenty of cases where companies have polluted and injured people that were born after the pollution took place and still was eligible to compensation.
    – d-b
    Apr 8, 2021 at 11:46
  • @d-b Thaliomide is one of those cases. Admittedly not in the US but I don't see why the US would be different. Apr 8, 2021 at 12:36
  • @Studoku Excellent example.
    – d-b
    Apr 8, 2021 at 13:36
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    Thalidomide caused damage after conception - it was prescribed for morning sickness. Also, that was a settlement - it’s not known how it would have gone if there had been a trial. In fact, I believe one of the arguments raised was lack of standing as the plaintiffs were not legally persons when they were damaged.
    – Dale M
    Apr 8, 2021 at 21:55

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