INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (WXIN) — More than $1.3 million has been paid in civil suits against a former Indiana fertility doctor who surreptitiously provided his sperm to father at least 94 donor children, FOX59 has learned.
Donald Cline and his group, Indianapolis Infertility, Inc., settled in three civil cases filed by three donor children and/or their families. Three other cases are pending.
Breaking down the settlement
Indianapolis Infertility and Cline likely settled for $100,000 in each of the cases, which is the maximum liability for a qualified healthcare provider, according to attorney Kent Winingham of Wilson Kehoe Winingham. (He is not affiliated with the cases).
The Patients Compensation Fund then paid an additional $350,000 in further “damages” or compensation in each of those civil cases.
Because the civil suits cover events in the 1970-80s, a medical malpractice cap of $500,000 likely applies to these actions, according to Winingham. He says if Cline was sued for the same thing today, the medical malpractice cap has increased to $1.8 million ($1.3 million from the Patients Compensation Fund and $500,000 from the qualified healthcare provider).
Winingham says because Cline would have been considered a “qualified healthcare provider” protected by the Medical Malpractice Act, he would have medical malpractice insurance.
“That insurance carrier would almost certainly be the one who paid that underlying settlement of $100,000.”
The majority of the information in the settlements is confidential, and Cline was originally listed anonymously.
“Before ever being able to outright name a healthcare provider in a suit, you have to go through a rigorous process at the Indiana Department of Insurance where you have to present your case first to a medical review panel, who renders an opinion on the case. At a certain point after getting that opinion, you can finally name the healthcare provider outright instead of anonymously,” explained Winingham.
Why wasn’t he charged criminally?
Although Cline, the subject of the recently released “Our Father” documentary on Netflix, admitted to using samples of his own sperm without his patients’ consent, he never was criminally charged with anything directly relating to those acts, even with DNA evidence showing he fathered the children.
“I absolutely think a crime was committed but the fact is there was no statute or law addressing this type of harm, so it was really impossible to charge the doctor with a crime,” said Winingham.
Although a criminal statute was passed in 2019 addressing the type of harm committed by Dr. Cline, Winingham says Cline likely can not be charged under it because the acts were committed before the statute existed.
According to Winingham, generally the statute for most civil medical malpractice cases is two years from the date of injury, but sometimes the statute of limitations can be extended if you discover your injury at some point after those two years.
Under the new Civil Fertility Fraud statute, future civil actions for this type of harm have “to be brought not later than 10 years after the 18th birthday of a child OR if that doesn’t apply, then 20 years after the procedure was performed,” wrote Winingham in an email to FOX59.
If neither of those situations apply, Winingham says you have five years to file upon learning you were a victim of civil fertility fraud.
How the claims against Cline came to light
Cline was a prolific fertility doctor who operated from his Indianapolis clinic from 1979 to his retirement in 2009.
In 2015, central Indiana resident Jacoba Ballard took an at-home DNA test that showed she had seven half-siblings. After doing her own research, she suspected Cline fathered the siblings and brought her findings to FOX59’s Angela Ganote.
Ganote helped link Cline to the siblings, as well as proof that he lied to investigators looking into the claims he fathered the children.
Cline was ultimately charged with two counts of obstruction of justice. He pleaded guilty in 2017 and was sentenced to a $500 fine.