After a fertility clinic freezer filled with 3,500 frozen eggs and embryos malfunctioned, many families lost their only chance at having kids. A jury just awarded them $15 million in damages

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Credit: Benoit Tessier/Reuters
Credit: Benoit Tessier/Reuters

[In March 2018, a] tank storing frozen human embryos and eggs at Pacific Fertility Center in San Francisco had failed, potentially destroying the precious cells that scores of people hoped would one day bring them biological children. 

On [June 10], after more than three years of litigation in federal court, a jury in California awarded five of the patients who lost embryos and eggs a combined $15 million in damages — a historic verdict that could have far-reaching consequences for the loosely regulated U.S. fertility industry.

Jurors found that the storage tank maker, Chart Industries, knew about a defect in its equipment that prevented accurate temperature monitoring but neglected to recall the units or warn the public about the problem. When the part malfunctioned in the Pacific Fertility Center tank, more than 3,500 frozen eggs and embryos prematurely thawed.

Experts said the verdict could bring closer scrutiny to the multibillion-dollar industry of fertility clinics and equipment manufacturers that has thrived as reproductive technologies have advanced and more Americans have turned to fertility treatments.

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“There is no licensure requirement, there’s no monitoring regime, no data registry for adverse events like this one,” said [health law expert] Dov Fox.

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