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Families affected by the mishandling of human remains at Harvard Medical School filed a class action lawsuit against the University and former morgue manager Cedric Lodge on Friday.
Lodge — who has been accused by federal prosecutors of stealing and transporting human remains from the morgue at the Anatomical Gift Program at Harvard Medical School — was indicted last Wednesday by a Pennsylvania grand jury on charges of conspiracy and aiding and abetting the interstate transport of stolen goods.
The class action suit against Harvard and Lodge — which was filed in the Massachusetts Suffolk County Superior Court by Keches Law Group — alleges negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, and infliction of emotional distress.
“Harvard and HMS owed a duty of care to the families of those who donated their bodies,” the filing reads. “Harvard and HMS breached its duty of care and was negligent when it failed to take reasonable steps in the hiring, training, supervision, and retention of defendant Cedric Lodge.”
The lawsuit cites the precedent under Massachusetts law set in Kelly v. Brigham and Women’s Hospital, which allows for financial compensation to close family members suffering emotional distress resulting from the mishandling of remains.
“Family members of the decedents are entitled to the right to bury their loved ones in a manner imbued with decency,” the class action suit reads. “When families of deceased are denied that right when the bodies of their loved ones were dismembered, mishandled, and sold to third parties, they are entitled to compensation for the severe emotional distress caused as a result of this inexcusable negligence and tortious interference with a dead body.”
John B. Bozek — whose mother, Adele J. Mazzone, donated her body to the Medical School following her death in February 2019 — is the lead plaintiff in the case. Though Mazzone’s ashes were returned to her family in April 2021, Bozek now believes his mother’s body was among those mishandled.
The suit covers families who believe their relatives’ bodies were affected, a number it sets between 350 to 400 cadavers.
Lodge and his wife Denise Lodge are accused of selling human remains to Katrina MacLean and Joshua Taylor, among others. All four individuals are named defendants in a five-count federal suit filed last Tuesday.
Harvard spokesperson Jason A. Newton and Harvard Medical School spokesperson Ekaterina D. Pesheva both declined to comment on the pending litigation.
Lodge did not respond to a request for comment.
Jonathan D. Sweet — one of two attorneys at Keches Law Group who filed the lawsuit — said in a press conference Friday evening that the case seeks to find “the truth of what happened.”
Sweet said some members of the class action called the Medical School’s hotline — set up last week in the wake of Lodge’s indictment — to get “presumptive confirmation” that their family members’ bodies were among those mishandled.
Then, they contacted Sweet and Jeffrey N. Catalano, the other attorney listed in the case.
Sweet pointed to the suffering experienced by families whose loved ones had donated their remains.
“A trust was formed, and that trust was that the custodian of these bodies would handle them with respect, and with dignity, and with care,” Sweet said at the press conference. “This case is about an alleged breach of that trust, which has come to light in a very unfortunate way.”
“We hope to bring to these families, by filing this lawsuit, a second closure,” he added.
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