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LOS ANGELES-A California judge has granted demurrers in eight lawsuits filed against the University of California, Irvine by patients who claim they were not notified that doctors at the hospital might have stolen their eggs and embryos. A “demurrer” is the equivalent in other states of a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The plaintiffs’ attorney handling the cases has vowed to appeal. The suits are the latest in a medical negligence scandal that made worldwide headlines about a decade ago when three University of California, Irvine (UCI) doctors were accused of stealing human eggs and embryos to conduct research or impregnate other women, some of whom gave birth. In the 1990s, UCI agreed to pay more than $22 million to settle 128 lawsuits related to the fertility egg scandal. The hospital also agreed to contact potential victims. But during the next five years, more than 20 lawsuits were filed by alleged victims who claim they were never contacted. With the recent ruling, only 14 of those suits remain. Fertility Cases, JCCP No. 3213 (Orange Co., Calif., Super. Ct.). “These claims filed more recently will not be allowed to proceed,” said Christopher Patti, university counsel for the University of California system. “We believe that’s the correct decision, and we intend to move forward on all the other remaining claims.” Origins of a scandal The egg scandal first was revealed in 1995, after which lawsuits were filed against UCI and three doctors who worked at the now-defunct Center for Reproductive Health. Federal prosecutors in Los Angeles brought dozens of charges against the three doctors, two of whom fled the country. The third, who was convicted on mail fraud, never served jail time. After UCI agreed to settle most of the claims, a new batch of lawsuits were filed alleging that the hospital never told some of the patients that they might be victims of the egg scandal. Earlier this year, UCI acknowledged that it failed to contact some of those patients. Six of those cases settled about a month ago. In his July 21 ruling, Orange County Superior Court Judge Stephen Sundvold granted demurrers filed by UCI on the eight cases. He cited statute of limitations issues, arguing that plaintiffs should have filed their lawsuits when media coverage of the scandal first broke. Under California medical negligence laws, plaintiffs must file suits within one year of discovering the wrongdoing or three years after the wrongdoing took place. The plaintiffs failed to prove why their discovery of the wrongdoing was delayed, “in spite of the widespread and pervasive nature of the media coverage of the scandal,” Sundvold wrote. The patients’ consumer claims also were time-barred under California law, he said. Byron Beam, a partner at Santa Ana, Calif.-based Beam, Brobeck, West, Borges & Rosa, who represents UCI in the fertility egg cases, said that the judge found it hard “to believe these people were not well aware they were victims but failed to take action to protect themselves.” He said the statute of limitations always was an issue in the cases. “We did make discounted offers of settlement on the basis that we recognized there are statute of limitations problems,” Beam said. “We felt these cases were barred and stale.” Manuel Corrales, a partner at San Diego-based Ronquillo & Corrales, which filed the majority of the 28 cases, said he plans to appeal the ruling. “Based on the doctrine of fraudulent concealment, these victims relied on what these doctors told them about their eggs,” he said. “Notwithstanding the 1995 media coverage, the victims believed these doctors had not told them anything otherwise and, under the law, the doctors and the Regents have to notify the patients about these thefts, and they never did that,” Corrales added. He said the statute of limitations for medical negligence should not have applied in these cases, which alleged claims of fraud and conversion against the hospital and the doctors. While the fertility egg scandal caused the largest number of negligence cases to be filed against UCI, the hospital has faced additional legal hurdles in recent months related to its liver-transplant program. More than 50 lawsuits have been filed against UCI since it was revealed that some patients at its Medical Center died while waiting for healthy livers, often because the hospital did not have enough surgeons. UCI shut down its liver-transplant program on Nov. 10.

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