Lawsuit: Similar malfunction at University Hospitals' fertility clinic also occurred in 2016

A lawsuit filed in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas March 15 alleges the University Hospitals Fertility Center, located within the Beachwood, Ohio-based University Hospitals Ahuja Medical Center, suffered a freezer malfunction in 2016 that similarly resulted in the loss of several embryos, according to News 5 Cleveland.

Here are eight things to know about the case.

1. The lawsuit alleges in March 2016, the unidentified plaintiffs were scheduled to undergo an embryo transfer at the UH Fertility Center, and that 12 of their embryos were being held in the fertility center's incubator, according to the report.

2. The plaintiffs claim on March 16, 2016, a physician informed them of an "incubator malfunction" and that nine of their 12 embryos had been lost. The physician was also reportedly unsure "about the viability of the other three," News 5 Cleveland reports.

3. The lawsuit states the plaintiffs underwent an embryo transfer March 27, 2016, but the procedure was unsuccessful. They reportedly attempted to transfer the remaining two embryos, but those procedures were also unsuccessful.

4. The plaintiffs reportedly had embryos harvested during the summer of 2016, which resulted in 10 embryos. According to the lawsuit, eight of those embryos were lost when the fertility clinic suffered an incubator malfunction earlier this month, which reportedly affected the viability of 2,000 eggs and embryos, the report states.

5. A University Hospitals spokesperson confirmed the 2016 incubator malfunction to News 5 Cleveland, noting the two incidents were not related.

"In March of 2016, one of our incubators lost power. Approximately five patients were affected, and we worked with each of them to find the best solution possible to help them move forward. It's our policy not to comment on pending litigation, including this most recent case, but we feel it is important to note that the event in 2016 is not in any way related to the storage tank incident we now are investigating. We remain committed first and foremost to do what is best for our patients."

6. Several accreditation agencies, including the Joint Commission and the Ohio Department of Health, have launched independent investigations into the UH Fertility Center following the freezer malfunction earlier this month.

7. An Ohio judge also issued a temporary restraining order against UH, barring the health system from directly negotiating settlements with 700 patients affected during the incident, according to Fox 8 Cleveland. Judge John R. Russo reportedly issued the order after attorneys for the affected patients expressed concern UH may have allowed its fertility physicians to conduct direct settlements with the affected individuals, according to the report.

8. In a statement to Becker's Hospital Review March 20, University Hospitals said, "We are dismayed and disappointed that a plaintiff's attorney has so inaccurately characterized our genuine and heartfelt offers of support to our patients. The temporary restraining order entered last week was based on those inaccurate characterizations and without giving UH the opportunity to put the correct facts before the court. A new order is now in place and the court has ordered plaintiff's motion to be removed from the court docket. ... That means UH will continue to communicate with our patients." 

"We are offering our patients who had stored eggs or embryos with us an in vitro package tailored to their individual clinical needs. We also will refund storage fees and will waive storage fees in the future for seven years. We have not and will not request or require our patients to sign a release to obtain these services. The attorney's claim that UH has refused to release medical records is also untrue. Our patients are our first priority, and we will continue to provide them with clinical support and assistance. To date, the five nurses staffing our patient information line have responded to more than 900 patient calls, and our physicians have personally talked with or seen approximately 400 patients about their medical needs."

To access the News 5 Cleveland report, click here.

Editor's noteThis article was updated March 20 at 2 p.m. to include comment from University Hospitals.

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