The Chicago Personal Injury Law Blog

Lawsuit Filed Over Northwestern Hospital's Spoiled Semen

Imagine being told that treatment for your medical condition means that you will no longer be able to have children. There is a glimmer of hope, however. Frozen sperm harvested before the treatment could allow you to someday have children via the miracle of cryogenic preservation at the hospital’s sperm bank and in vitro fertilization.

And then the freezer broke at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, reports the Chicago Tribune. On April 21-22, one of the cryogenic storage tanks went offline. In addition, the alarm failed to alert technicians. The end result was catastrophic for the plaintiff in this case, known in court filings as John Anonymous, as his stored semen is no longer viable.

Three similarly situated anonymous men asked the court to allow them to inspect the hospital's tank maintenance records earlier this year. All four will no longer be able to have biological children, as their samples were not salvageable.

Theoretically, a hospital shouldn't be strictly liable for cases of mechanical failure. However, they are held to the standard of the reasonable hospital when it comes to maintenance and storage procedures. For example, a reasonable hospital might have had the samples for each patient distributed across multiple tanks in case of failure. They might have also inspected the tanks more often. The tank in this case reportedly passed an annual inspection in July 2011.

Should the hospital's procedures be found to be below the standard of the reasonable sperm bank facility, they could be liable for their negligence. The hospital did have a duty to act reasonably when storing its patients' sperm. If their standards slipped, then they breached that duty and as a result, the four patients will now be unable to have children.

The only questions to be addressed in the lawsuit are whether their conduct did in fact fall below the standard and how much is frozen sperm and the chance at biological children worth?

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