Lawsuit frequency and claims basis over lost, damaged, and destroyed frozen embryos over a 10-year period

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VOLUME 1, ISSUE 2, P78-82, SEPTEMBER 01, 2020


Gerard Letterie, M.D., Dov Fox, J.D., D.Phil.



To review the claims, claims basis, and frequency of lawsuits over lost or damaged frozen embryos and to estimate their frequency over a 10-year interval.


Retrospective analysis of case law.


Private in vitro fertilization clinic and school of law.




Case law identified using Bloomberg Law, Westlaw, and Lexis Nexis databases for coverage of court dockets regarding allegations and claims.

Main Outcome Measure(s)

Lawsuits brought and settled in state and federal court, with data extracted included claims basis and location in federal or state courts.


We reviewed case law from January 1, 2009, to April 22, 2019, using the terms frozen, discarded, lost, and damaged embryo/s, and calculated clinical cases using frozen embryos from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. We identified 133 cases: 122 and 11 lawsuits in the state and federal court dockets, respectively. Of these, 87 cases involved alleged freezer tank failure in California and Ohio in 2018–2019. In the remaining 44 cases, the majority (37 cases) were brought for personal injury, breach of contract or warranty, product liability, professional negligence, unfair business practices, and miscellaneous tort. A minority (7 cases) were brought for medical malpractice. During this interval, a total of 398,256 embryo-thaw procedures were reported nationally.


Allegations range from business practices to product liability and are seldom for medical malpractice. Our results suggest that best practices in storage of frozen embryos should include not only improvements in hardware and monitoring of storage conditions of specimens but also setting standards for communications among patients, providers, and embryology laboratories regarding disposition of embryos.

Fertility and Sterility

Editorial Office, American Society for Reproductive Medicine

Fertility and Sterility® is an international journal for obstetricians, gynecologists, reproductive endocrinologists, urologists, basic scientists and others who treat and investigate problems of infertility and human reproductive disorders.