Five patients of a California fertility center have been awarded $15 million collectively due to the failure of a freezing tank, which made more than 3,500 frozen human embryos and eggs unusable.
The awards came after 29 eggs and four frozen human embryos became unviable for five patients.
Both the Pacific Fertility Center in San Francisco and Chart Industries, which made the tank, were sued.
The patients claimed the tank maker knew of a problem that impeded accurate monitoring of temperature. Jurors assigned Chart with 90 percent of the responsibility for the incident, and the clinic the other 10 percent.
The case is a landmark by being the first in which damages were awarded after the destruction of embryos and eggs, according to The Guardian.
“This verdict should be a wake-up call for fertility centers. The jury’s award shows that when clinics make mistakes they can be devastating,” Adam Wolf, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, told The Guardian.
The company claimed that the clinic’s employees were to blame.
However, internal documents were produced to show the company knew about an issue with the equipment controlling temperature as far back as 2012.
Laura and Kevin Parsell, lost four frozen embryos. They will receive $7.2 million. Rosalynn Enfield, 43, who lost 18 eggs, will get $2.6 million; Adrienne Sletten, 43, who lost two eggs, will get $2.075 million. Chloe Poynton, 39, who lost nine eggs will receive $3.1 million.
“It’s really painful to be at a baby shower celebrating someone else’s family being built and knowing inside you’ll never get that,” Poynton said in court.
The plaintiffs had sought $30 million.
“Nothing can bring these eggs and embryos back,” attorney Dena Sharp, representing the families, said during closing arguments last week, according to The Guardian.
“Nothing can turn back that biological clock. Nothing can truly restore what these plaintiffs had taken from them.”
There are about 140 federal lawsuits still facing the tank manufacturer.
Wolf, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said the fertility clinic field, which is not regulated, is prone to problems.
“Tragically we see very serious errors on a daily basis. These are the Wild West days of the American fertility industry. It operates behind closed doors, and under a veil of secrecy. It can do, basically, whatever it likes, and that’s no way for an industry that is so important to operate,” Wolf said.
Naomi Cahn, director of the University of Virginia’s Family Law Center, said the verdict could change that.
“Storage tank breakdowns are one example of problems in this industry. The lack of oversight, ranging from not knowing if the tanks are being appropriately regulated to manufacturing defects to not knowing how many other people may have used the same donor eggs or sperm, is worrying,” she said.
Cahn said the government should “establish one single government entity to oversee the fertility industry and ensure that entity issues appropriate regulations including certification of all aspects of the technology.”
“We don’t want to interfere with the patient-physician relationship, we just want to make sure that when you trust your egg, sperm and embryos to a tank, that tank will not malfunction and there are appropriate procedures in the clinic if it does,” she said.
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