Relatives of ‘Frankenstein’ body donation centre victims awarded millions
A jury has awarded $58m (£44m) to 10 people who alleged a body donation facility mishandled their relatives’ remains.
The trial against Stephen Gore, owner of the now closed Biological Resource Center in Arizona, had heard that the bodies were donated for medical research.
Instead, the families had found the remains were sold to third parties, including – in at least one case – the military, where they were used for destructive testing.
When the civil trial began in October, retired FBI agent Mark Cwynar said he and his colleagues raided the facility in 2014 and found a table stacked with human legs, heads in a cooler and torsos without heads and limbs.
Mr Cwynar said he had also seen a torso with its head removed and a smaller head sewn on it, something he compared to a character from Frankenstein.
He told the court that some of the agents who took part in the raid were left so traumatised that they needed counselling.
Twenty-one people took legal action and the jury found in favour of 10 of them, awarding $8m (£6m) in compensatory damages and $50m (£38m) in punitive damages. A woman whose son’s remains were sold for military tests was awarded $6.5m (£5m).
According to a lawyer for the donor families, jurors did not rule in favour of the other 11 plaintiffs because they had not testified during the trial.
Jurors had been shown the business’s price list which said that a torso without a head, for example, sold for $4,000 (£3000).
The centre’s owner, Stephen Douglas Gore, admitted in 2015 that he had played a part in mishandling the remains.
He denied the allegations in the lawsuit but said that his company had used donations in ways that went against donors’ wishes.
In a letter to the judge, Gore said he should have supervised employees better and been more open about the process.
His lawyer Timothy O’Connor said the relatives had all signed consent forms granting permission for the bodies to be dissected and that it was legal for the centre to profit.
Centres like the one in Arizona distribute remains to universities, drug companies and companies making medical devices. The companies pay the costs and families are able to save the cost of burials or cremations.