Pacific Fertility Center Litigation
Girard Sharp currently represents patients of Pacific Fertility Center who allege their frozen eggs and embryos were destroyed or jeopardized following a cryopreservation tank failure at PFC’s San Francisco clinic in early March 2018. Among other things, the lawsuit alleges that PFC and other defendants did not take proper measures to ensure the safety of its patients’ tissue, including ensuring its tank storage monitoring and alarm systems were adequate. Our lawyers filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of PFC patients on March 13 and amended it on May 30 to incorporate recent developments and new information about the alleged cause of the tank failure. Read a copy of the amended lawsuit here. In early May, a federal judge appointed Girard Sharp as lead counsel in the consolidated litigation that incorporates our lawsuit as well as other class action lawsuits which were subsequently filed on behalf of PFC patients. We are continuing to investigate and review potential claims on behalf of additional patients who were affected by the incident.
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PFC: Tank Failure a "Very Unfortunate Incident"
According to the lawsuit, on March 4, 2018, an embryologist at Pacific Fertility Center performing a routine walk-through discovered that the liquid nitrogen in one of the cryopreservation tanks had dropped to an unsafe level for an undetermined period of time, potentially destroying or jeopardizing the eggs and embryos stored inside.
In an email sent to affected patients one week later, PFC characterized the tank failure as a “very unfortunate incident” and suggested some of the eggs and embryos stored there may have been destroyed.
The lawsuit states that patients were not told why an alarm did not alert PFC staff, why a backup system did not engage, or why the problem went undiscovered until someone walked through the lab during a routine check.
Additionally, the lawsuit alleges that PFC did not separate their eggs and embryos into different tanks to ensure the survival of some of the tissue in the event of a tank failure.
Chart Issues Recall on Egg and Embryo Storage Tank
Over one month later, on April 19, 2018, PFC notified patients that an investigation had determined the incident resulted from “a failure of the tank’s vacuum seal.”
Four days later, Chart Industries, the manufacturer, recalled several of its cryopreservation tanks.
“Insurance Policy” for Hopeful Parents is Lost
The lawsuit asserts that PFC likens its cryopreservation services to an “insurance policy” for women and families who wish to defer having children or overcome a diagnosis of infertility. In the wake of the incident, the complaint alleges, this insurance policy—which PFC patients acquired at great emotional and financial cost—has vanished. According to the lawsuit:
Pacific Fertility and Prelude have informed Plaintiffs that it is not possible to know whether their eggs or embryos are viable until they are warmed, and even then, the full extent of the damage cannot be known without attempting a pregnancy. As a result, PFC patients are being asked to make significant reproductive decisions now—depriving them of the very freedom and flexibility they sought when placing their eggs or embryos in defendants’ care.
Both Pacific Fertility Center and Chart Industries as well as Prelude, PFC’s parent company, are named defendants in the lawsuit. The case is currently pending in San Francisco Federal Court, and seeks money damages for all patients whose eggs and embryos were in the affected Tank 4.
Girard Sharp's Leadership in PFC Lawsuit
In early May, Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California consolidated all of the pending class action lawsuits filed on behalf of families who had eggs or embryos involved in the March 11 tank incident.
On May 15, 2018, Judge Corley appointed the firm as interim co-lead counsel for the consolidated lawsuit.
In this leadership capacity, we will be responsible for directing, supervising, and prosecuting the plaintiffs’ claims.
News Coverage of Our Case
KTVU Fox 2 News – March 16, 2018
KQED News: March 16, 2018
“A woman whose frozen eggs were destroyed after a freezer malfunction at San Francisco’s Pacific Fertility Center has filed a class action lawsuit against the company. The suit claims the company was negligent and didn’t properly maintain equipment. We’ll discuss the lawsuit and would like to hear from you: Were you affected by the freezer malfunction? How, if at all, does it influence your decision to freeze your eggs?”
San Francisco Chronicle: March 14, 2018
“A San Francisco woman has filed a lawsuit against Pacific Fertility Center, alleging the San Francisco clinic’s mishandling of a storage tank containing frozen embryos and eggs resulted in the loss of her eggs. The suit seeks $5 million in damages and was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. It also names as a defendant Prelude Fertility, a private-equity-owned reproductive health company based in Atlanta, which in 2017 acquired a majority stake in Pacific Fertility Center.”
The Mercury News: March 14, 2018
“In the first suit to be filed after a rare malfunction that remains under investigation, a patient is seeking compensation for negligence, breach of contract and emotional distress from Pacific Fertility Center.”
Egg and Embryo Freezer Failures Becoming More Common
Another storage tank failure occurred the same weekend. On March 9, 2018, The Washington Post reports that “[m]ore than 2,000 frozen eggs and embryos stored at a Cleveland-area fertility clinic may no longer be viable after temperatures in a storage bank rose over the weekend.” The affected clinic, University Hospitals Ahuja Medical Center, informed “about 700 patients that their frozen eggs and embryos may have suffered damage.” In a statement, the clinic said that “[i]t is unknown whether the problem was caused by a human error or mechanical failure.”
A spokesman for the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, a major professional organization, said that such large-scale failures are “unprecedented.” But as a growing number of Americans elect to freeze eggs or embryos, such incidents may become more common.
The Costs of Lost or Damaged Eggs, Embryos
Damage to or loss of frozen eggs or embryos in the event of a cryo-preservation equipment failure is emotionally and financially devastating to the individuals and couples who have entrusted their hope for children and their own biological material to their fertility clinics.
Women may choose to freeze their eggs to preserve their reproductive options for a later time, after which they’re no longer fertile. Some women freeze eggs before undergoing medical procedures that render them infertile, such as chemotherapy or a hysterectomy. Still other women donate their eggs to other hopeful women whose eggs are not reproductively viable.
Many couples who cannot conceive naturally, who wish to conceive later, or who plan to run genetic testing on their offspring prior to implantation rely on the services of a fertility clinic to help them through in vitro fertilization. Couples who hope to adopt embryos from others are affected by freezer failures as well.
Harvesting the eggs puts strain on the body. It requires a series of blood tests and ultrasounds, 9-10 days of hormone injections to stimulate the ovaries to ripen multiple eggs, and an extraction process, which involves inserting a needle into the ovaries.
After harvesting the eggs, they can be stored unfertilized (as an ovum) or fertilized (as an embryo). The eggs or embryos are treated with antifreeze and stored in a medical-grade freezer.
Harvesting and preserving reproductive tissue is also an enormous financial investment. On average, it costs $10,000 to $12,000 for the egg freezing process, and $800 per year for storage.
About Our Team
Girard Sharp is a San Francisco-based litigation firm. Our team consists of seasoned trial lawyers, leading personal injury lawyers, and experienced complex litigators. We have been appointed by judges in California and around the country to leadership positions and have achieved landmark recoveries in high-stakes cases.
Premier Bay Area Lawyers with a National Reputation
Our track record of success and approach to litigation are widely respected with our colleagues and judges and have earned us numerous accolades and awards:
- “Elite Trial Lawyers” Finalist and “Plaintiff’s Hot List,” National Law Journal
- “California Lawyer’s Attorney of the Year (CLAY) Award” (Jordan Elias)
- “AV-Preeminent” peer-review rating, Martindale-Hubbell (highest possible ranking for professional ethics and legal skills) (Daniel Girard)
- Tier 1 Best Law Firms in plaintiffs’ mass tort and class action litigation,” U.S. News & World Report