A Florida woman was awarded $5.25million after a jury found a Vermont doctor guilty of inseminating her with his own sperm instead of an anonymous donor.
Cheryl Rousseau, 73, of Florida, will receive $5million in punitive damages and $250,000 in compensatory damages after the jury ruled Wednesday that Dr. John Coates III, 80, had impregnated her with his sperm in 1977 without her consent at Central Vermont Hospital in Berlin.
Her husband, Peter, had an irreversible vasectomy and the pair wanted a child together after both having previous children from other marriages.
She was artificially inseminated by Coates in March 1977. During the procedure, she was taken to a side room at the hospital and told to remove her clothing from the waist down while Coates went to an adjacent room for five minutes. When he returned, he injected her with the syringe he carried in and told her to close her legs for a few minutes.
She went on to deliver her a baby in December of that year. The now-44-year-old daughter, Barbara, began the civil lawsuit against Coates in 2018 when she took a genealogy test to find out who was her real father.
A jury awarded Cheryl Rousseau. 73, $5million in punitive damages and $250,000 in compensatory damages on Wednesday after they found Dr. John Coates III, 80, had impregnated her with his sperm in 1977 without her consent at Central Vermont Hospital in Berlin, Vermont.
The family found out about Coates’ doings after their daughter Barbara’s son, then 15, started experiencing hip pain because of a genetic flaw. Barbara underwent DNA testing using Ancestry and 23 and Me and got linked back to Coates, who denied being the father. After additional DNA testing confirmed the results, Coates admitted to being the father
One of the couple’s lawyers, Jerry O’Neill said that Coates made it a point to remain close to Cheryl during her pregnancy, though he maintained a professional relationship.
‘He made sure that he did the delivery of the child himself as opposed to someone else in his practice, he made certain he was there,’ O’Neill said.
‘It’s fraud and it’s a question of inserting genetic material in a woman, not of an anonymous donor but rather the physician who is engaging in the conduct itself.’
She and her husband sued the doctor in 2018 for medical negligence, fraud, battery, and other charges after their daughter underwent DNA testing following the discovery that her son, then 15, was having pain in his hips, according to the Montpelier Bridge.
The family discovered her son’s pain was from a genetic flaw and Barbara set to find out other genetic vulnerabilities she should look out for using Ancestry.com and 23 and Me. She also had a University of California at Berkeley trained geneticist help her as well, according to the Vermont Digger.
DNA testing matched her with Coates, not the medical student the Rousseaus’ had chosen as the donor. They had made their pick based on someone that ‘met specific characteristics,’ which included long legs and reportedly resembled Peter, although they never met him.
‘The promise of anonymity was “extremely important” to [Cheryl] since she did not want someone to know or “follow” her child. It would be a “safety net” for her and for her child,’ the lawsuit stated.
The paid $75 for the sperm donation.
‘The Rousseaus had been led to believe that the person who was donating the genetic material was a medical student who Dr. Coates had cleared as a donor,’ O’Neill told the Vermont Digger in 2018.
‘Coates’ choice to insert his own genetic material into Rousseau in March of 1977 ‘was harmful, offensive and constituted a battery upon Plaintiff Cheryl Rousseau,’ the lawsuit said.
Coates initially denied under oath about being the father, but after additional DNA testing confirmed the results, he admitted to using his own sperm.
The jury only deliberated for one day, stating that he caused Cheryl harm by not disclosing how he planned to use his sperm prior to the procedure. They also found that Coates broke the contract signed with the couple. Peter, however, was dismissed from the lawsuit for failing to prove damages.
Legal documents (pictured) stated that the couple paid $75 for the sperm donation and choose an anonymous that had ‘long legs’ because it resembled Peter
Another of the family’s lawyers, Celeste Laramie, said that 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,’ she continued, according to NBC News. ‘By this verdict, we hope that other patients will be spared from being deceived by their physicians in some of their most vulnerable moments.’
Coates’ lawyer, Peter Joslin, said they were ‘surprised and disappointed with the verdict.’
The now-retired doctor, whose license was revoked in February, also faces a second lawsuit after a Colorado woman accused of him of also artificially inseminated her in 1978.
Coates had previously been charged with misconduct in 1996, but he was cleared of wrongdoing.