On March 30, 2022, a federal jury in Vermont awarded $250,000 in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages against a fertility doctor who used his own genetic material to inseminate the plaintiff without her consent. The artificial insemination procedure had taken place in March 1977 at the former Central Vermont Hospital in Berlin, Vermont. It was not until October 2018 that the child, who was then an adult, had DNA testing that determined that the doctor was her biological father.
The plaintiffs filed their lawsuit against Dr. John Coates III in 2018 in the United States District Court for the District of Vermont, alleging medical negligence, fraud, battery, and other causes of action. Coates reportedly lied under oath during his deposition in 2019 when he testified that did not use his sperm in any insemination procedures he had performed. Coates reportedly admitted that he used his own sperm only after DNA testing confirmed that he was the father of the plaintiffs’ child.
The plaintiffs decided to undergo the donor fertilization procedure when it became apparent that the husband’s vasectomy could not be reversed. They selected a sperm donor who was a medical student based on the characteristics they selected. The husband’s claims were not sent to the jury by the trial judge because the judge determined that the husband had not proven his damages. The jury deliberated for one day before finding that Coates had failed to obtain consent to use his genetic material, which caused the plaintiff harm and breached their contract. The plaintiffs’ lawyer stated after the verdict, “The jury’s verdict sends a message: if you are a physician who even thinks for a moment about using your own sperm to impregnate a patient, stop. Without our client’s courage in bringing this case and her persistence, that message would not have been heard. By this verdict, we hope that other patients will be spared from being deceived by their physicians in some of their most vulnerable moments.”
A defense attorney stated after the jury rendered its verdict against his client, “We were surprised and disappointed with the verdict.” The same defense attorney told the jury during opening statements that Coates never intended to harm a patient: “His whole goal was to help them.”
The Vermont Board of Medical Practice revoked Coates’ medical license in February 2022 after a second lawsuit was filed against him by a Colorado woman who accused him of using his genetic material without her consent when he artificially inseminated her in 1978. Coates, now 80, retired from his medical practice several years ago.
If you or a family member suffered harm as a result of fertility treatments in Vermont or in another U.S. state, you should promptly find a Vermont medical malpractice attorney, or a medical malpractice attorney in your state, who may investigate your fertility malpractice claim for you and represent you or your family member in a fertility medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
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