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Court of Appeals Reinstates Full $58.5 Million Judgment Against Body Brokers

Court of Appeals Reinstates Full $58.5 Million Judgment Against Body Brokers

February 16, 2022 | 3 min read

Court of Appeals Reinstates Full $58.5 Million Judgment Against Body Brokers

The Lawsuit Filed Against the Biological Resource Center

The trial lawyers at Burg Simpson filed a lawsuit against the Biological Resource Center (BRC) in Maricopa County Superior Court in 2015. The BRC, located in Phoenix, Arizona, represented themselves to be a legitimate body donation center where the deceased could have their bodies donated to medical advancement. In 2014, the FBI raided the facility for selling donated bodies against the family’s wishes. The BRC convinced the descendants and families of the deceased to donate the bodies of their loved ones based on misrepresentations that the human remains would be used solely for medical or scientific research. Furthermore, the BRC claimed that the remains would be treated with dignity and respect and would not be dismembered or sold. Instead, the company engaged in an illegal operation to collect, harvest, and traffic whole human bodies and sell the body parts for profit.

 One of the Largest Jury Trial Awards in Arizona History

The Burg Simpson trial team was led by shareholder and firm founder Michael S. Burg and included shareholders David K.TeSelleHolly Kammerer, and Paul D. Friedman. After a four-week jury trial in Maricopa County, Burg Simpson’s lawyers secured $58.5 million in compensatory & punitive damages for the “Donor Families.”

The Donor Families included Gwendolyn Aloia and nine other plaintiffs who were awarded $8.5 million in compensatory damages and $50 million in punitive damages against defendant Stephen Gore for mishandling the body parts of the Donor Families’ deceased loved ones. The jury award was one of the largest civil jury trial awards in Arizona history.

Trial Court Reduced Jury Award Post-Trial from $58.5 Million to $17 Million

After the jury trial, the trial court ruled that the punitive damages award was constitutionally excessive and reduced it to $8.5 million (for a total of $17 million in damages).

The Burg Simpson Trial Team Appealed and Challenged the Trial Court’s Jurisdiction to Reduce the Jury Award

The Burg Simpson trial team filed an appeal on behalf of the Donor Families. The trial team argued that because Gore first challenged the punitive damages award in an untimely motion for a new trial, and the trial court did not grant an extension of time to do so, the trial court lacked jurisdiction to consider the issue.  The trial court argued it had the power to do so regardless of Gore’s untimely filing.

Court of Appeals Agrees With Burg Simpson; Re-instates the full $58.5 Million Jury Award

Ultimately the Court ruled in favor of the Donor Families, finding the Trial Court did not have the jurisdiction to reduce the awards, and ordered the trial court to reinstate the original judgment of $58.5 million.

Conclusion: Burg Simpson’s Clients Win Again

Burg Simpson is proud of the Donor Families’ willingness to stand up to the body brokers and to bring attention to a nationwide problem that remained largely unexposed prior to this case. The jury sent an explicable message to body brokers across the country that failing to treat donated bodies with dignity and respect and selling body parts for profit without full informed consent from the donors will not be tolerated in our society.

While the process for live organ donation and transplant is highly regulated in the United States, there are no regulations to address whole body donation after death in most states. Because of the courage of our clients and the perseverance and dedication of the Burg Simpson trial team, this has now begun to change so that no grieving family members need to go through this again.