University Hospitals in suburban Cleveland lost 4,000 eggs and embryos after a storage tank failure
One of the egg-freezing clinics that lost thousands of eggs and embryos is denying responsibility for the blunder.
University Hospitals in Cleveland, Ohio, is facing more than 50 lawsuits after a storage tank failure destroyed more than 4,000 embryos in March.
On Monday, attorneys for the hospital filed legal papers saying the scandal was an unexpected accident and that they owe the families nothing, since they signed consent forms acknowledging there was a risk of losing their eggs.
Lawyers for the families have hit back saying this belated self-defense directly contradicts the CEO’s apology months ago, in which he took responsibility.
‘They are denying liability in this case,’ Tom Merriman, a lawyer working with a number of the affected UH families, told Fox 8.
‘They blame unnamed third parties, unexpected events, even the victims themselves. Saying “Oh well, you knew the risks.”
‘That’s not what they’ve been saying publicly for the past several months. It’s not what their CEO said when he did a PR video apologizing and taking responsibility.’
UH hit back in a statement saying they ‘recognize the sorrow this situation has caused patients who were affected’ and that they ‘know we need to re-gain their trust’.
The latest court filing comes after months of see-sawing between the hospital group and their storage tank supplier.
Weeks after the blunder, the hospital blamed the tanks for being faulty.
Within days, the supplier hit back saying its equipment didn’t malfunction or cause the loss of more than 4,000 eggs and embryos.
Both the hospital and the manufacturer agree on the root cause – an alarm system had been turned off when the storage tank’s temperature began to rise – but they disagree on how the alarm was deactivated.
The hospital group says the tanks were malfunctioning for weeks, passively pushing the blame on the machine.
But in April, Michigan-based provider Custom Biogenic Systems said an initial investigation found human error is to blame for the failure in March.
A statement from Custom Biogenic Systems said it gave the clinic instructions how to deal with preventative maintenance at the time, insisting the company had nothing to do with the remote alarm system that had been turned off.
University Hospitals has ruled out inappropriate access to the tank area, and did not identify anyone as complicit. However, investigations into the malfunction suggest a person was actively involved in affecting the tank.
Around 1,000 families have received letters from the hospital informing them that they too lost their eggs.
At first, it started with 600, but that number was bumped up three weeks later when it emerged 4,000 frozen eggs and embryos – not 2,000 – were damaged.
Now patients, some of whom had their eggs stored for years if not decades, are seeking millions of dollars in damages.
In a bizarre turn of events that officials are calling a tragic coincidence, the same issue occurred at San Francisco’s Pacific Fertility Center in the same week, damaging 400 embryos.
At least two families have already come forward with lawsuits against UH – Amber and Elliott Ash, of the Cleveland suburb of Bay Village, and an unidentified couple from Pennsylvania.
Lawyers for the couples who went to the Ohio clinic are seeking class action status, which would require approval from a judge.
The Ashes said they stored two embryos at a University Hospitals fertility clinic in suburban Cleveland after Elliott’s cancer diagnosis in 2003. They said they were told over the weekend that their embryos are no longer viable.
‘It’s heartbreaking, just heartbreaking,’ Amber Ash told WEWS-TV. ‘The medical community calls it tissue. I like to think of it as my children.’
The couple has a two-year-old son conceived through in-vitro fertilization and hoped to bring him a genetic sibling.
‘With this lawsuit, we will get answers and stop this from happening again,’ said Mark DiCello, an attorney for the Ashes.
The Pennsylvania couple was beginning to set up a time last week for transferring a frozen embryo to the woman’s womb when they later were told something went wrong, attorneys said.