A group of men may have lost their only opportunity to have a family.
That's according to 40 lawsuits filed Tuesday against Northwestern Memorial Hospital after dozens of sperm samples were destroyed last summer.
The lawsuits, filed by Chicago law firm Corboy & Demetrio, name Northwestern Memorial Hospital and the Northwestern Medical Faculty Foundation which maintains the lab.
"These are individuals who suffered diseases such as cancer and gene disorders that would eventually cause them to be infertile," attorney Matt Jenkins said at an afternoon news conference. "This was literally sperm that had been banked there that was the one and only shot for most or many of them to have a biological family of their own after they became infertile, and that opportunity was lost with that tank failure."
The plaintiffs claim that the cryopreservation and storage procedure at the lab caused damage to semen and testicular tissue in April 2012, and that Northwestern was negligent in monitoring and responding to the issue.
Northwestern is also accused of negligence for allegedly placing all of the specimens in one tank when there were several others available.
"It's a no-brainer, something that you learn in kindergarten, that you're not supposed to store all your eggs in one basket, and in this case, that's what Northwestern was doing," Jenkins said.
Northwestern officials issued a news release Tuesday admitting that a cryogenic storage tank storing sperm samples malfunctioned due to the failure of an alarm system designed to notify technicians of any problems.
Hospital officials expressed regret for the malfunction, and said testing on nearly 100 of the affected samples showed "some adverse impact," although they do believe that many of the specimens will still be able to be used for in vitro fertilization.
The hospital says it reached out to more than 250 patients who were affected by the situation and is in the process of planning next steps, along with replacing the faulty equipment and inspecting the rest of the devices used to store the specimens.
"While we are working to fully understand what occurred, we are confident that we have followed applicable standards," hospital officials said via the news release.
Northwestern officials say they will "likely assert counterclaims against the manufacturers of the components that failed."