Ten years on from Landmark Sperm Destruction Case

Doctor testing blood

In 2009 the Court of Appeal agreed that  claimants were entitled to compensation as a result of negligent destruction of their sperm. Enable Law represented the Claimants in these actions.

Our clients had all been diagnosed with cancer, and advised to freeze their sperm as a way to ensure they had a chance to conceive a child after their cancer treatment had concluded. An NHS equipment failure led to the freezer thawing, and their sperm died. This cost them that chance to conceive a child of their own.

Although the Defendant Trust admitted they were negligent as they failed to preserve the Claimant’s sperm samples they would not agree that it amounted to a personal injury and denied liability when the claims were brought. However, the Court of Appeal found that the destruction of the samples amounted to damage to property and the Claimants were able to recover compensation as a result.

This overturned the decision in the initial trial, where it was found that destruction of sperm did not amount to either a personal injury, or destruction of property. The question over whether a body part could be ‘owned’ was heavily debated. The Court of Appeal decided that despite the lower court’s conclusion, in their view the men had ownership of their sperm, they had rights in respect of its future use and the consequence of the Trust’s breach of duty was to preclude that future use.

This was a ground-breaking case, and confirmed that individuals have property rights in their sperm samples when they are stored and looked after by a Hospital Trust and can suffer losses as a result. Each of the individuals recovered losses for psychological injury or distress.

This ruling could be applied in other scenarios where there has been destruction of eggs, or even embryos through malfunction of equipment or hospital negligence. As well as psychological injury, some patients may have had physical treatment leading up to the negligence or may need further treatment which could have been prevented if the negligence never occurred. This physical injury, and potential future costs could be recovered as part of a compensation claim.

If an NHS equipment failure has affected you, or your ability to conceive, contact our team of specialist fertility negligence solicitors now.

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