UBC proposes $6.2 million settlement to owners of destroyed sperm

UBC has proposed a $6.2 million settlement to compensate hundreds of cancer patients whose frozen sperm was accidentally destroyed in a power failure.

In 2002, a circuit break tripped, cutting off the power to a freezer holding sperm that UBC had been paid to store -- the alarm failed to kick in and the sperm was destroyed.

"For a lot of these men this was a very severe and significant personal blow," said Art Grant, a lawyer for the class action suit. "So I’m glad that for those who are still surviving we’re able to get some sort of compensation if we can get this approved."

Howard Lam, the class-action representative, directed his lawyers to accept the settlement, but its approval is subject to a June 10 court hearing. There, a judge will hear any concerns from members of the class-action lawsuit.

Over 400 men are part of the class action, mostly cancer patients who stored sperm with the UBC Andrology Lab. Under the current settlement, their lawyers expect less than 200 of the claims to be viable.

Originally, the civil suit outlined damages sought: $20,000 to $100,000 for each of the men involved. This settlement would split $6.2 million between all the viable claims and award $1.86 million in court costs plus disbursements. If there are only 200 viable claims like the lawyers expect, a full, successful claim may be worth closer to $300,000.

Viability of a claim depends on demonstrating impaired ability to have children without significant personal cost. Claims are awarded based on a points system, which is affected by the severity of damage to sperm health, occurrence of a vasectomy, age and unpaid storage fees. The amount each successful claim receives will be based on the total number of claims, weighted by their rank on the point system.

This settlement, if accepted, is the end of a 12-year legal saga. The B.C. Supreme Court initially denied the class-action suit in 2002. The B.C. Court of Appeal overturned that decision in 2011 and the lawsuit crawled forward.

The case then depended on whether the court would decide that sperm counts as property. UBC's defense depended on an exemption liability clause they made the men sign in order to store their sperm -- but property cannot be exempted under the Warehouse Receipt Act, meaning UBC would be liable.

The B.C. Supreme Court found that sperm was, in fact, property. UBC appealed and the B.C. Court of Appeal upheld the decision in January 2015.

April 27 was the first court date in the negligence hearing since the appeal was upheld. Grant said they would have made the argument that "the system [UBC] used was inappropriate, the backup system was non-existent, the checks and balances nonexistent."

A representative of Forma Scientific Inc., the company that made the freezer in 1987, told The Ubyssey that they recommend their freezers be replaced every 10 years.

Instead of defending the negligence allegations in court on April 27, UBC proposed this settlement.

Susan Danard, UBC Spokesperson, said in a statement the school took the matter seriously and is pleased a mutually agreeable resolution was reached: "The university recognizes this was an unfortunate incident and we empathize greatly with the men and their families involved in this case."