Eight new lawsuits have been filed by families who lost eggs and embryos after a storage tank failed at Cleveland’s University Hospitals Fertility Clinic in March.
The suits, filed Thursday in federal court for clients living outside Ohio and in Geauga County for clients in Ohio, are the first known cases filed in those jurisdictions, according to attorneys for the plaintiffs, who allege negligence and breach of contract.
Previously, lawsuits related to the fertility clinic’s storage tank failure, which destroyed more than 4,000 eggs and embryos and affected at least 950 families, were filed in Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County.
Another development in these latest lawsuits is the addition of a defendant.
On top of going after University Hospitals, plaintiffs in the latest complaints have named CAS DataLoggers. The Geauga County-based company distributes equipment that logs data and was “supposed to monitor the alarm systems associated with the tanks at University Hospitals,” explained Adam Wolf, an attorney with one of two law firms representing clients in these cases.
“University Hospitals has admitted its responsibility for the failures of its tanks. That failure, it has said, should not have happened,” Wolf said. “The loss suffered by our clients is devastating. … Those eggs and embryos represented the hopes for having children for hundreds of American families.”
CAS DataLoggers’ attorney did not respond to a request for comment. Plaintiff attorneys could not outline the exact relationship CAS DataLoggers had with the fertility center and said that information would come out through litigation.
One of the complaints obtained by CNN described how an alarm sounded when the storage tank temperature fluctuated — but no one was in the clinic to hear it.
“A remote alarm system provided by CAS [DataLoggers], which was designed to alert UH employees to a temperature fluctuation when the Center is not staffed, was turned off and had been off for a period of time,” the complaint said.
What the hospital system has to say
University Hospitals issued a statement Thursday in response to the latest lawsuits.
“Since the March 4 Fertility Center event, University Hospitals and its leaders have apologized and continue to put our patients first by offering free fertility care to impacted patients who would like to continue their path to growing their families,” the statement said. “We have also made significant enhancements at the Fertility Center and we embrace and reinforce a culture that encourages our physicians, nurses, and staff to speak up when they see ways to further increase the quality of care we provide to patients.”
The statement added that “UH has worked with Fertility Center patients and their lawyers over the past year to negotiate a significant number of settlements and will continue offering resolution alternatives to our patients who want to avoid the time, expense, and anxiety of litigation. Out of respect for all of the families impacted by the event, and respect for the Court in Cuyahoga County, where these same issues are being heard, UH will not provide any further comment at this time.”
A restrictive or “gag” order, restricting discussion of the case against University Hospitals, was issued in the Cuyahoga County court last year.
Families want to be heard
Two couples named as plaintiffs in these new lawsuits appeared at a news conference Thursday to share their stories and motivations.
In the nearly 11 months that have passed, they feel like the hospital system they trusted has failed to hear and understand their pain, they said.
“It was a loss that was felt throughout our whole family, not just by Matt and I,” said Emily Petite, speaking alongside her husband.
She spoke of how their one child, a 3-year-old son, “will never have a sibling, our parents who will never be grandparents again, our siblings who will never have the chance to be aunts and uncles again.”
The couples feel crushed and betrayed by the experience and, for now, can’t imagine going through invitro fertilization again — never mind the offer from University Hospitals. It was difficult, emotionally and physically, the first time they went through it. Now, the idea is even more fraught.
“The IVF industry is an amazing and wonderful industry; it gave us our son. But you shouldn’t go into IVF wondering, ‘Is the storage tank going to fail? Is there a chance I’m going to lose our eggs and embryos that we have stored?'” Petite said. Those concerns “shouldn’t be on us. It should’ve been on them.”
Accountability, so this happens to no one else, is what they want, said Kim Bucar, another plaintiff who spoke Thursday. She also is looking for some sort of resolution.
“To have this go on as long as it has, has been very difficult,” said Bucar, who comes from a family of girls, has two daughters and, before they lost their embryos, had held out hope that she and her husband might one day have a son.
“It continues to bring up emotions over and over and over again,” she said. “It doesn’t allow us to heal.”
By filing these new lawsuits, their lawyers hope to get jury trials and to earn compensation for plaintiffs — but also to give them a chance to speak for themselves and be identified as people rather than just medical records.
“We file these lawsuits because our clients can’t wait any longer for UH to make this right for them,” attorney Bobby DiCello said. “The goal is fairness. The families need to be respected and recognized by UH as people, not numbers.”