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University Hospitals, plaintiffs lawyers propose extending time to sue for lost eggs, embryos

February 7, 2019 GMT

University Hospitals, plaintiffs lawyers propose extending time to sue for lost eggs, embryos

CLEVELAND, Ohio – After a year marked by acrimony, attorneys for dozens of patients who lost thousands of eggs and embryos after a freezer malfunction at University Hospitals’ fertility clinic recently reached an accord with UH on a significant legal issue.

The opposing parties have asked a judge to approve a joint agreement to extend by a year the statute of limitations for patients to file lawsuits against UH.

Judge Ashley Kilbane has scheduled a hearing for Feb. 14 in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court to discuss the motion to extend the window for suing UH to March 4, 2020.

The March 3-4 event at UH’s Ahuja Medical Center in Beachwood left 4,000 frozen eggs and embryos unviable and launched a flurry of lawsuits.

“With the potential for lawsuits from 900 patients, we wanted to make sure that every patient who was impacted by the event at the fertility clinic received the benefit of this stipulation,” said attorney Jay Kelley, the lead liaison for a committee of plaintiffs lawyers in more than 80 consolidated lawsuits.

“We wanted a method to give the patients the maximum amount of time to weigh all of their options, whether to try again to work with the fertility clinic, to pursue a resolution with UH or to contact a lawyer and go into litigation,” Kelley said.

Some of the pending cases have accused UH of medical malpractice, which under Ohio law carries a one-year statute of limitations. Other cases have accused UH of general negligence and product liability, which carry a two-year statute of limitations.

Two weeks ago, eight couples sued UH and DataLoggers Inc., the company responsible for installing and monitoring the alarm system at the fertility clinic, accusing them of negligence.

The joint agreement to extend the statute came after about two months of negotiations, and contains benefits for both sides, providing those impacted by the incident with the opportunity “to maximize their options,” according to Kelley and a UH spokesman.

UH’s lawyers “have worked with fertility center patients and their lawyers over the past year to negotiate a significant number of settlements and will continue offering resolution alternatives to our patients who want to avoid the time, expense and anxiety of litigation,” the UH spokesman said.

Kelley gave UH credit for working with the attorneys on the agreement. “I’m sure they hope to see less cases filed, as well as the additional time to pursue other agreements with the couples without the urgency of a one-year statute of limitations.”

“It buys UH more time,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Bruce Taubman, in support of the joint motion. “It’s time that they won’t have to pay damages and can explore settling with people. Which is what they’re doing, and which isn’t a bad thing. Lots of people want to get on with their lives and not stay involved in protracted litigation.”

All of the cases settled to date contain confidentiality clauses that prevent the parties from discussing details of the resolutions, including the amount of damages paid to the plaintiffs.