SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A woman whose frozen eggs were destroyed in an equipment malfunction has filed a class action lawsuit, accusing a San Francisco fertility clinic of failing to safeguard the frozen eggs and embryos of hundreds of patients.
“Our clients are distraught about what transpired, and for a lot of folks, this was the only opportunity to have children,” plaintiffs’ attorney Adam Polk with Girard Gibbs said by phone. “So obviously the destruction of the reproductive tissue is a real blow for them.”
The anonymous woman, identified only as “S.M.” in the complaint filed in San Francisco federal court Wednesday, claims San Francisco-based Pacific Fertility Center emailed her and hundreds of other patients on Sunday, telling them the liquid nitrogen storage tank containing their frozen eggs and embryos “lost liquid nitrogen for a brief period of time” earlier in the week, possibly destroying some of the tissue inside. According to the complaint, 15 percent of the clinic’s frozen tissue was stored in the tank, consisting of hundreds of thousands of eggs and embryos.
“We are heartbroken by this situation and our thoughts are with each of you who may have been touched by this event,” Pacific Fertility Center wrote in the mass email, according to the complaint.
S.M. says she paid the clinic $10,000 out-of-pocket in October 2016 to retrieve, freeze and store her eggs “indefinitely.” She said she called the center after getting the email and learned all of her eggs had been destroyed.
The clinic believes the tank malfunctioned due to a leak in the tank’s seal, according to the complaint. But S.M. says regardless of the cause, the electronic tank monitoring sensors should have detected a drop in liquid nitrogen levels or a rise in temperature and alerted staff to the problem earlier. She says the clinic’s monitoring system fell below industry standards.
Pacific Fertility Center did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Wednesday.
The clinic has hired independent investigators to determine the cause of the malfunction, according to the complaint.
Prelude Fertility, a nationwide network of fertility clinics, is also named as a defendant. Pacific Fertility is a member of Prelude Fertility’s network.
S.M. seeks to certify a class of patients whose eggs or embryos were destroyed in the March 2018 tank malfunction, and general and special damages.
She is suing for negligence, breach of contract, bailment and unfair competition.
According to the complaint, one cycle of egg-retrieval, freezing and annual storage costs $8,345, and a second cycle costs $6,995. Embryo-freezing services, the complaint states, also involve “significant” costs.
“Pacific Fertility’s egg-freezing services are not cheap,” the complaint states. “For some families, these fertility services provide their only opportunity to conceive a child.”