College janitor accidentally destroys $1 million in scientific research by turning off freezer: lawsuit
The research lab contained a freezer that housed several cell cultures and samples that had to be stored at a specific temperature or would otherwise be spoiled
June 28, 2023 9:06am
Updated: June 28, 2023 9:06am
A college research center lost more than $1 million worth of scientific research after a janitor turned off a laboratory freezer because its “annoying alarms” kept going off, according to a lawsuit filed in New York.
The lawsuit was filed by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), a private research university in Troy, New York, against Daigle Cleaning Systems, who it had contracted to clean its buildings.
Daigle employee Joseph Harrington was hired to clean the university’s Cogwell Building from August 2020 through November 2020. Inside the building was a research lab, where Dr. K.V. Lakshmi was conducting high-level research that “had the potential to be groundbreaking,” according to the lawsuit.
The research lab contained a freezer that housed several cell cultures and samples that had to be stored at a specific temperature or would otherwise be spoiled. The freezer, which was programmed to a temperature of -112 degrees Fahrenheit, had alarms that would go off if the temperature rose above -108 degrees or dropped below -115.6 degrees.
On September 14, 2020, the alarms of the freezer went off because the temperatures had increased to -108.4. Lakshmi determined that the research was unharmed by the change in temperature, but was unable to turn off the alarm. He contacted the freezer’s manufacturer to service the freezer and turn off the alarm, but due to COVID-19 restrictions, they were unable to provide service until 2022. As a result, the alarm continued to go off.
"THIS FREEZER IS BEEPING AS IT IS UNDER REPAIR. PLEASE DO NOT MOVE OR UNPLUG IT. NO CLEANING REQUIRED IN THIS AREA. YOU CAN PRESS THE ALARM/TEST MUTE BUTTON FOR 5-10 SECONDS IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO MUTE THE SOUND," said a sign at the door.
However, when Harrington was clearing the building on September 17, he was annoyed by the alarms and switched off the circuit breakers. The next day, the freezer was found without power, and "a majority of specimens were compromised, destroyed, and rendered unsalvageable demolishing more than twenty years of research."
An estimated $1 million worth of scientific research was damaged. RPI is seeking damages for that amount through the lawsuit.