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Class-action lawsuit filed against Pacific Fertility for loss of up to thousands of embryos and eggs

Illustration of a human embryo. (iStock)

A woman whose frozen eggs were stored at the Pacific Fertility Center has filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court in San Francisco, accusing the company of gross negligence in its maintenance, inspection and monitoring of a storage freezer that malfunctioned in early March.

Pacific Fertility is one of two centers that separately reported problems in liquid-nitrogen tanks where thousands of eggs and embryos were kept. Officials at both facilities have acknowledged that some — or potentially all — of the tissue may have been damaged.

The company's actions represent an “extreme departure from what a reasonably careful person would do in the same situation to prevent foreseeable loss of human reproductive tissue,” attorneys wrote late Tuesday in their filing in U.S. District Court.

The lead plaintiff — whom the complaint identified only by her initials, S.M., to protect her privacy — had her eggs retrieved and frozen in October 2016 and was paying to have them stored at the center's San Francisco location on Francisco Street.

According to the lawsuit, she received an email from the center on Sunday noting “a very unfortunate incident.” The email described how storage tank No. 4 had lost liquid nitrogen for a brief period, which may have resulted in the loss of some eggs. When she subsequently called her doctors, she learned that hers were among those that could no longer be used.

One cycle of egg freezing at Pacific Fertility, which includes storage for a year, costs $8,345. This fee does not include other necessary services such as consultations, lab work and medications. Additional storage beyond the first year costs $600. However, attorneys noted, the value of the eggs and embryos goes far beyond these sums.

“For some families, these fertility services provide their only opportunity to conceive a child,” the attorneys wrote. They estimate that about 400 patients are in a similar situation as the lead plaintiff.

The California filing is the third suit in the wake of the March 4 incidents in California and Ohio. The first, filed Sunday in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, names University Hospitals Ahuja Medical Center's Fertility Center in Cleveland. An Ohio couple, Amber and Elliot Ash, lost both of the frozen embryos they had stored there.

A second suit, also against the University Hospitals center, was filed by a Pennsylvania couple. According to the Associated Press, they had spent eight years trying to have a baby and were in the process of transferring the frozen embryo to the woman.

Read more:

Patients mobilize to take legal action against fertility clinics with malfunctions

Discounts, guarantees and the search for ‘good’ genes: The booming fertility business

FAQ: Are my frozen embryos safe? Everything you need to know about the freezer malfunctions