California jury awards $15 million to victims after a storage tank malfunction destroyed embryos

In a historic verdict, five victims were awarded nearly $15 million by a jury after a storage tank malfunction at a fertility clinic in San Francisco destroyed their frozen embryos three years ago.

The verdict is the first of its kind to award damages to victims who have lost their chance to have biological children due to a freezer tank malfunction.

The Pacific Fertility Center said a piece of equipment in its cyro-storage laboratory “lost liquid nitrogen for a brief period of time” on March 4, 2018, ruining the viability of some frozen embryos.

“We are truly sorry this happened and for the anxiety that this will surely cause,” Pacific Fertility Center said in an apology shortly after the incident occurred.

On Thursday, more than three years later, a jury in the US District Court for the Northern District of California ruled the tank manufacturer should be held accountable.

At least one tank produced by the manufacturer Chart was defective, according to the verdict, and it was a “substantial factor in causing harm” to all five plaintiffs. The jury concluded Chart was 90% at fault while Pacific Fertility Center was 10% at fault.

The manufacturer and Pacific Fertility Center were negligent with respect to the tank, according to the verdict, and the manufacturer should have known that the tank’s defective controller was dangerous or likely to be dangerous.

Chart became aware of the defect after the tank was sold but failed to recall the equipment or fix the problem, according to the verdict. The damages encompass the value of the lost eggs as well as the pain, suffering and emotional distress the victims underwent.

“These families have suffered an unspeakable loss and still struggle every day with the tragedy that took place more than three years ago at Pacific Fertility Center,” said attorney Adam Wolf, who represents victims in other IVF and genetic material cases.

“Today’s jury award honors the pain and suffering that these families have gone through and are still going through,” Wolf said.

In an unrelated event that same weekend in March 2018, thousands of frozen eggs and embryos were also compromised at the University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. A malfunction caused temperatures to drop in the freezers where they were stored.

The incident affected hundreds of families, University Hospitals had said at the time. In February 2020, two new lawsuits were filed against University Hospitals Fertility Clinic in Cleveland.

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The pandemic changed the way we ate and shopped — not always for the better

The pandemic changed the way we ate and shopped — not always for the better


FILE – In this May 23, 2011 file photo, consumer Sonia Romero shops for tomatoes at a Superior Grocers store in Los Angeles. As food costs continue rising, many grocery shoppers are seeking new ways to cut costs. After you’ve tried every store brand and linked, scanned and clipped every coupon in sight, what about buying in bulk? (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)


(CNN) — Covid-19 affected our lives in so many ways, including how we ate and shopped. The changes were not always for the better, according to a series of reports presented Monday at the annual meeting of the American Society of Nutrition.

Increase in junk food intake

An analysis by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found some of us increased our consumption of unhealthy snacks and desserts, including chips, cookies and ice cream, while also guzzling more sugary drinks such as sweetened coffee and teas, regular sodas, fruit drinks, and sports or energy drinks.

Over a third (36%) of the nearly 4,000 Americans who were surveyed in June 2020 reported sometimes consuming more unhealthy snacks and desserts than before the pandemic, while 22% said they sometimes drank sugary drinks.

However, 16% said they ate snacks and sweets often or always, while 10% said the same of sugary beverages. People who reported consuming the most unhealthy foods and drinks were more likely to identify as Hispanic or Black and be younger than age 65, obese, female, and of lower income and education levels.

The same survey also asked about food availability and safety. Nearly 6 in 10 people — predominately lower-income, unemployed, Black or Hispanic adults — said they were worried about not being able to obtain food at nearby stores or were concerned they might catch Covid-19 from food. Early fears that Covid-19 could be spread via food packaging were quickly discounted by scientists.

These findings “highlight the importance of strategies and communications that reduce fears and prevent unintended negative behaviors,” such as food hoarding and panic buying, said dietitian Brianna Dumas, a fellow in the CDC’s Research Participation Program, in an abstract.

In addition, public health officials should stress “consumer awareness of food access options during emergencies, including promotion of hunger safety net programs, especially among disproportionately affected groups,” Dumas said.

A drop in healthy foods

Another study analyzed the diets of more than 2,000 Americans before and during the pandemic and found a decrease in the consumption of healthy foods, including vegetables and whole grains, during the past year.

“This decrease was the most pronounced among women, black and Latino study participants, and participants who gained at least five pounds or more since 2018,” said Caroline Um, a postdoctoral fellow at the American Cancer Society, in a statement.

Um plans to follow study participants to understand how their diets might continue to change. Other studies will investigate which factors, such as mental health or financial stressors, might be involved in the change in eating behaviors.

Kids gained weight

Nearly 30% of 433 parents surveyed by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University said their child had gained an average of 9.6 pounds in the months between May and September of 2020.

Parents of children between 5 and 18 years old were questioned before the pandemic and again in May and September of 2020 about their concerns regarding their child’s weight.

Families who said their child gained weight during that time period were concerned about that trend and attempted to monitor and restrict their child’s eating habits in both May and September. However, in families where children did not gain weight, parents were initially concerned and monitored their child’s food intake in May, but had stopped doing so by September.

Further research is needed to investigate and target the “different behavioral, societal, environmental, and psychosocial factors” that might contribute to weight gain among children and adolescents, wrote Melanie Bean, an associate professor of pediatrics and co-director of the Healthy Lifestyles Center at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at Virginia Commonwealth University, in an abstract.

Teasing people about their weight

Another study presented at the conference looked at the impact on children when family members teased them or made other critical comments about their weight. Researchers from Tufts University found that exposure to negative family comments about weight “as little as 3 times per month was significantly associated with moderate to high levels of weight bias internalization,” according to the study.

Prior research has shown that when children and adults experience weight stigma and internalize it, that itself can predict weight gain.

“A common perception is that a little shame or stigma might motivate people to lose weight, but that is not what we see in research,” Rebecca Puhl, deputy director at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut, told CNN in a prior interview.

“In fact, when people experience weight stigma, this actually contributes to unhealthy eating behaviors, lower physical activity and weight gain,” Puhl said. “Our studies show that when parents shift the conversation to healthy behaviors, that tends to be much more effective.

“The focus isn’t on the number on the weight scale, but on the whole family eating fruits and vegetables, replacing soda with water, getting daily physical activity,” she added.

Online grocery shopping

A study done in the early days of the pandemic — March and April of 2020 — found that a third of the nearly 18,000 households surveyed said they were shopping online for groceries, and, of those, 60% said they planned to continue to do so after the pandemic passed.

Their top reasons? Over 80% said it was to “avoid public germs and Covid-19,” while 44% wanted to “take advantage of the convenience,” according to Shu Wen Ng, an associate professor in the Department of Nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Higher food prices in areas with higher restrictions

Researchers from Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy analyzed retail prices for food and other consumer goods in 133 counties in the United States and compared them to the levels of Covid-19 restrictions imposed by local governments.
Results showed that a higher level of government restrictions during the pandemic was associated with higher food prices, but did not affect the cost of other consumer goods.