Who's responsible when a sperm freezer defrosts?

A man who says his sperm was destroyed when power was cut to a freezer at the University of British Columbia is one step closer to his day in court.

Judge says lawsuit can go ahead against University of B.C. over plug being pulled on freezer

A man who says his sperm was destroyed when power was cut to a freezer at the University of British Columbia is one step closer to his day in court.

Howard Lam is the lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against the university seeking damages for those affected.              

When Lam was diagnosed with cancer in the late 1990s his oncologist advised him to freeze his sperm in case he wanted children in the future, explained his lawyer, Sandy Kovacs.

Lam arranged to have a sample kept in a cryopreservation unit in the andrology lab at UBC in Vancouver. The special freezer was to preserve the sperm by keeping it at temperature of –130 C in liquid nitrogen.

Lam alleges that his sperm died, along with samples from 400 other men, when the power supply to the freezer was cut off and the liquid nitrogen levels dropped too low.

"In or about 2002, the sperm was irreversibly damaged. The sperm had been kept in a freezer that had simply been plugged into a wall. There was no backup power supply," said Kovacs         

This week, Justice J. Butler ruled that UBC can't rely on a clause in the contract that denied liability for negligence.

That means the class-action lawsuit will go ahead, said Kovacs.             

"Oh they are happy... because they didn't like the notion that UBC would get off scot-free."

Lawyers are now trying to determine a trial date so the case can be heard.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.