Body donation company that used cadavers as crash dummies ordered to pay $58M to families – USA TODAY

Posted: November 21, 2019 at 8:46 pm

Gwen Aloia is among the plaintiffs who sued a now-shuttered Phoenix body donation company. A jury in Phoenix decided that 10 of the 21 plaintiffs will be awarded $58 million.(Photo: Stephanie Innes/The Republic)

PHOENIX Ten of 21 plaintiffs who sued a now-shutteredPhoenix body donation company will be awarded $58 million, a Maricopa County Superior Court jury decidedTuesday.

Of the jury's award, $50 million was punitive damages, and $8 million was compensatory.

This is a landmark verdict, said Michael Burg, an attorney for the plaintiffs.

The jury began deliberating Nov. 12 whether to award up to $13.2 million each to plaintiffs who said the bodies of their deceased loved ones were mishandled and disrespected byBiological Resource Center of Phoenix.

Stephen Gore, the owner ofBiological Resource Center,was not in the courtroom Tuesday, and his lawyer declined comment.

The 21 plaintiffs in the civil action, filed in Maricopa County Superior Court in2015, saidthat theremains of their family members were obtained through "false statements," that body parts were sold for profitand that they were not stored, treated or disposed of with dignity or respect.

The plaintiffs saidGore was deceptive for not telling donors that their bodies would be cut up into pieces and sold to middlemen. In some cases, the bodies were used for ballistics testing and as crash test dummies.

Burgsaidthe civil case against Gore is the first of its kindand shouldsend a message to the body donation industry about what happens when a company deceives donors. He estimatedthe nationwide industry is worth $1 billion.

'Coolers full of genitalia': 'Frankenstein' head, buckets of limbs found in raid of Phoenix body donation company

Arizona is a regulatory-free zone for the body parts industry.Atleastfourbody donation companies operatein the state, in addition toa nonprofit cryonics company thatfreezes people after they die with the intent of one day bringing them back to life.

Gore started his company in 2004 and never set out to defraud anyone, his lawyer Timothy O'Connor said during closing arguments.

O'Connor said all the plaintiffs signed consent agreements that they would donate their bodies to Biological Resource Center. The consent agreements clearly stated the bodies could be "disarticulated," he said, adding that Biological Resource Center was not the only body donation company to use such language.

One of thepoints Burg made during the two-week trial was that Gore misled prospective donors and their families by conflating organ donation and body donation, going so far as to mention the Donor Network of Arizona and its Donate Life slogan on his company literature, though the two entities had no relationship.

In 2016, HB 2307, which requires regulation of the body donation industry, was signed into law. The bill was revised in 2017 but never implemented. Arizona Republic

Organ donation and body donation are not the same thing, though it's a common source of confusion. Organ donation is highly regulated, whereas body donation is not.

Organ donationinvolvestransplanting organsinto living humans, and donors may sign up to do that through the Donor Network of Arizonaor check the appropriate boxthrough the Arizona Department of Transportation's Motor Vehicle Division when ordering a duplicate driver's license/identification card.

In body donation, the cadaveris used for medical research, education and training. The head, arms and legs could be cut off, and no part of the body is ever transplanted into a living human.

There is no regulatory framework that requires body donation companies to disclose what they intend to do with the bodyor what happened with the body.

Biological Resource Center was private and for-profit.

Like many body donation companies, Biological Resource Center picked up bodies and returned the unused cremated remains to families free of charge.The company did outreach to hospitals and hospices across the state.

A cross-country criminal investigation into Biological Resource Center began after U.S. Customs officials found a shipmentfrom the company on a Delta cargo flightthat contained15 severed human heads dripping blood in plastic ice coolers, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich told the Arizona Republic in 2016.

An FBI officialwho participated in a raid of the company's Phoenix headquarters described seeing severed limbs, heads and a cooler full of penises. He said some of the FBI personnel who participated in the raiddid not want to go back into the building after what they'd seen.

In his closing arguments, Burg said there was never any evidence uncovered that showed what Biological Resource Center was doing with the male genitalia. He said there must have been a reason they were cut off, andthey weregoing to be used for"something."

Stephen Gore, right, is represented by lawyer Timothy O'Connor.(Photo: Stephanie Innes/The Republic)

Gore pleaded guilty in October 2015 to the charge of "illegally conducting an enterprise" after accusations that he provided vendors with contaminated human tissue andused body parts in ways that the donors had not permitted.

In aletter to Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Warren Granville before his sentencing in December 2015, Gore wrote that he felt overwhelmed, working in an industry with"no formal regulations." to guide him.

Gore was sentenced to four years of probation and a deferred sentence of one year in jail, which he did notserve because of good behavior.

Reacting to the Biological Resource Center case, Arizonapassed a lawin 2017 that says body donation companies are not allowed withouta state license.The law has not been implemented or enforced.

Follow Stephanie Inneson Twitter:@stephanieinnes.

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