UH Cleveland Freezer Malfunction Results in Compromised Eggs and Embryos

Mar 20, 2018 News

Posted by: Kisling, Nestico & Redick, LLC

A recent freezer malfunction at University Hospitals in Cleveland compromised thousands of eggs and embryos that were being stored for around 700 families. Those families invested time, money, and emotions into the prospect of having children in the future. Now, it is uncertain whether they will be able to use those eggs and embryos to start or expand their families.

If your eggs or embryos were stored at the UH Cleveland Fertility Center and affected by the malfunction, call Kisling, Nestico & Redick at 1-800-HURT-NOW. We are available to discuss your situation and legal options.

Freezing Eggs and Embryos at a Fertility Clinic

Freezing eggs and embryos and maintaining them for a long period of time requires a specific environment. They must be frozen and are stored in liquid nitrogen. At such low temperatures, genetic material can survive while no biological activity can occur.

If that environment breaks down, though, eggs and embryos are put at risk. If they become too warm without properly being thawed, physiological changes could happen that impact whether they can lead to a healthy pregnancy and baby.

In the case of Ohio’s University Hospitals Fertility Center, a liquid nitrogen storage tank malfunctioned, compromising 2,000 frozen eggs and embryos, which may no longer be viable. The fertility clinic has contacted families who were impacted by the freezer malfunction, leaving some to wonder what to do next. If you were affected and do not know where to turn, call KNR today at 1-800-HURT-NOW. We can help you understand your legal options and guide you through the claims process.

Cause of the Freezer Malfunction at UH Cleveland Is Currently Unknown

University Hospitals has reported that it is not aware of why one of its two liquid nitrogen tanks malfunctioned. The hospital has brought in independent experts to determine the cause. The situation is also under investigation by numerous organizations, including the College of American Pathology and the Joint Commission – both of which are accreditation institutions, and the Ohio Department of Health.

Not only are there questions regarding why the temperature in the tank rose, there are also questions regarding whether the tank was properly supervised. University Hospitals Fertility Center may not have caused the temperature change, yet it could still be responsible for failing to monitor the tank appropriately and keep the necessary staff on hand to respond to any alarms regarding unexpected temperature fluctuations.

Viability of the Eggs and Embryos Is a Key Issue

The fertility clinic moved the eggs and embryos after discovering the temperature fluctuation. However, whether those eggs or embryos are still viable, meaning whether they can lead to a healthy fetus, remains to be seen. Approximately 700 families may have lost their chances to start having children or expand their families.

The only way to tell if an egg or embryo is viable is to thaw it. However, once it is thawed, it cannot be frozen again. This puts families in a difficult position. They need to have their eggs or embryos thawed to determine if they are viable. They may use the potentially compromised eggs or embryos to try to carry out a pregnancy, not knowing how the temperature fluctuation affected them and whether that could have consequences for the fetus.

Potential Legal Liability of UH Cleveland Fertility Center

The cause of the malfunction is unknown, which creates issues in regard to legal liability. The assumption is that University Hospitals is liable, yet an understanding of the cause of the incident could also place liability elsewhere, such as on the tank manufacturer, an outside contractor hired to monitor or maintain the tank, or an inspector who failed to notice a problem. It will take time and a deep investigation to determine the cause and whether another business is liable.

As of right now, the focus is rightfully on University Hospitals’ duty to its patients and its liability for failing to uphold that obligation. The fertility center was entrusted with its patients’ valuable property, which it ensured would be properly maintained and viable until the time came when the patient chose to utilize their eggs or embryos. With the information currently available, patients who lost their eggs and embryos may be able to file a claim against University Hospitals for negligence or gross negligence.

Potential Damages for Affected Families

The families affected by this situation have lost significant financial investments in the in vitro fertilization process. A woman freezing her eggs or fertilized embryos may spend tens of thousands of dollars depending on how many egg retrievals the woman went through, how many implantation attempts have been made, and how long the families were storing the eggs or embryos.

The emotional distress and grief caused by this situation is significant. Many of these families intended to go through in vitro fertilization themselves or with a surrogate. They knew the genetic sex of their embryos and had potential baby names picked out. For some families, the unviable eggs or embryos mean they will never have children genetically related to them. They now face the decision to not have children or go through a lengthy and potentially expensive adoption process.

In addition to compensatory damages for financial and emotional damages, families may also be able to pursue punitive damages. If they are able to establish gross negligence, families may request the court order University Hospitals to pay additional damages that are intended to penalize the organization.

Were Your Eggs or Embryos Affected?

If you received the shocking news that your eggs or embryos may not be viable because of the University Hospitals’ tank malfunction, you should speak with an attorney. You may have a legal claim against the facility. Our attorneys at Kisling, Nestico & Redick are ready to talk with you and explain your legal rights and options in this difficult situation. Call us today at 1-800-HURT-NOW or contact us online to schedule your initial consultation.