A Florida woman who accused a Vermont doctor of impregnating her with his sperm rather than a donor's was awarded $5.25 million by a federal court jury Wednesday.
The woman, Cheryl Rousseau, was awarded $250,000 in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages in the case against Dr. John Coates III, who allegedly inseminated her with his genetic material without her consent.
She and her husband, Peter Rousseau, sued Coates in 2018, accusing him of using his sperm during an artificial insemination procedure in March 1977 at what was then called the Central Vermont Hospital in Berlin, Vermont, according to the complaint.
The couple wanted to go through the procedure because they wanted a child but Peter Rousseau had undergone a vasectomy that could not be reversed. They agreed to use donor genetic material from a medical student who resembled him and "met specific characteristics" Cheryl Rousseau required, the lawsuit said.
But their lives were turned upside down in October 2018, when the child, then an adult, used DNA testing and found out Coates was her biological father, the complaint stated.
Coates denied he was the father of the child, according to the lawsuit.
The couple sued Coates in U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont, accusing him of medical negligence, fraud, battery and other offenses.
Though Peter Rousseau was initially part of the lawsuit, the judge found that he failed to prove that he suffered damages and his claims were not considered by the jury, The Associated Press reported.
Celeste Laramie, an attorney for Cheryl Rousseau, said Coates testified under oath during his 2019 deposition that he never used his own sperm in any insemination procedures. But once DNA confirmed he was the genetic father of Rousseau’s child, he admitted to using his own sperm.
Wednesday's verdict came after one day of deliberations.
The jury found that Coates failed to disclose that he planned to use his genetic material prior to the procedure, caused Cheryl Rousseau harm, breached a contract they had and inflicted damages upon her, according to the verdict form.
"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," Laramie said in a statement to NBC News on Thursday.
"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," she added.
Peter Joslin, a defense attorney for Coates, told NBC News: “We were surprised and disappointed with the verdict.”
The Rousseau lawsuit isn’t Coates’ only legal trouble. He faces a second lawsuit that was filed last year by a Colorado woman who also accuses Coates of using his genetic material when he artificially inseminated her in 1978.
As a result of the two lawsuits, Coates’ medical license was revoked in February by the Vermont Board of Medical Practice.
Several lawsuits have cropped up over the past few years with the rise of DNA testing and genealogy technology that has exposed doctors performing artificial insemination procedures as biological parents.