California jury awards $15m over lost fertility clinic eggs and embryos

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A California jury has awarded $14.9m (£10m) to five patients who lost frozen eggs or embryos in a 2018 storage tank failure at a fertility clinic.

The cryogenic tank malfunction at the Pacific Fertility Center in San Francisco ruined some 3,500 eggs, embryos and other genetic material.

The jurors found a tank production defect was largely to blame.

This is the first case to see an award for victims of a fertility clinic freezer problem, lawyers say.

Three women and a couple will share the nearly $15m award after losing their frozen eggs and embryos, respectively. The tank manufacturer, Chart Industries Inc, will pay 90%, with the clinic being held liable for the remaining 10%.

A Chart-made tank at the centre lost liquid nitrogen for a short period of time, which led to the destruction of some frozen material, the centre said.

Chart Industries knew there was a defect in the tank but did not recall the product, the verdict states, according to US media.

Pacific Fertility and Chart Industries did not immediately respond to a request for comment by the BBC.

Jurors found that both the centre and tank maker were negligent and caused pain and emotional distress.

Chloe Poynton, a 39-year-old who lost eggs during the malfunction described her suffering at losing the chance to have a baby, the Associated Press reported.

“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,” she said in court.

Dena Sharp, one of the attorneys representing the five plaintiffs, said in a statement following the verdict: “The emotion in the courtroom today was palpable.”

“We have been on the front lines working with our clients for years and the impact this devastating incident had on patients’ lives can’t be minimised.”

Hundreds of other lawsuits are also pending against the centre and the manufacturer. Trials are expected to take place later this year.

In 2018, following the 4 March malfunction, the clinic said in a statement: “We are truly sorry this happened and for the anxiety that this will surely cause.”

The same day, another tank failed at a Cleveland fertility clinic, resulting in the loss of over 4,000 eggs and embryos.