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Families' Lawsuits Over Harvard Morgue Scandal Are Dismissed

by Madison Hess, J.D. | Last updated on

Harvard Medical School’s former morgue manager is accused of stealing and selling human body parts donated to the school. The families of the deceased, understandably upset, sued Harvard to recover damages for their pain and suffering. However, a Massachusetts judge recently dismissed the lawsuits that the family members of the deceased filed against Harvard. A criminal trial is still scheduled for this summer.

The Harvard Morgue Scandal

In June of 2023, Cedric Lodge was accused of stealing human remains from Harvard Medical School’s morgue in Boston, Massachusetts, and selling them. The morgue’s former manager is accused of bringing stolen remains to his house and shipping remains to buyers. Lodge is also accused of bringing buyers into the school's morgue, showing them the cadavers, and allowing them to choose what parts to buy. Cedric Lodge and his wife are both charged with conspiracy and interstate transport of stolen goods. The federal court in Pennsylvania is scheduled to try them and other defendants on August 5, 2024.

The Lawsuits Filed by Family Members

Relatives of the deceased whose donated bodies were given to Harvard Medical School wanted more than just criminal charges against Lodge. They filed lawsuits against Harvard University and two of its employees, alleging the desecration of their loved ones immeasurably impacted their lives and that Harvard could have prevented this from happening. The employees named in the suit were Mark Cicchetti and Tracey Fay. They ran the Anatomical Gift Program through which bodies were given to Harvard. The plaintiffs were seeking damages on theories of negligence and vicarious liability. Vicarious liability occurs when an employer is legally responsible for the actions of employees. But Suffolk County Superior Court Judge Kenneth Salinger recently dismissed the families’ lawsuits.

The Harvard Defendants’ Liability

The court first looked at whether the Harvard defendants could be liable for their acts under the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act. Next, the court considered whether the Harvard defendants could be vicariously liable for the acts of Cedric Lodge.

Are the Harvard Defendants Liable for Their Actions?

Judge Salinger found that under The Uniform Anatomical Gift Act (the "UAGA”), which governs the donation of human remains, the Harvard defendants were not liable for their actions in this matter. The Court reasoned that, under the UAGA, anyone who makes a good-faith attempt to act in accordance with the UAGA is immune from liability for their actions.

The families never suggested that the Harvard defendants failed to act in good faith. Instead, they alleged that the Harvard defendants were negligent, but under this interpretation of the UAGA, negligence is not enough.

Are the Harvard Defendants Liable for Lodge’s Actions?

The court reasoned that because Lodge’s actions were taken outside of his employment, his employer, Harvard, is not legally responsible for his conduct. Under the court's test, an employee’s conduct is within the scope of their employment if the employee is performing an action that is of the type they are employed to perform, and if they’re doing it, at least in part, to serve their employer.

Judge Salinger determined that Lodge’s conduct was not within the scope of his employment. Lodge’s intention was never to serve his employer, Salinger reasoned. In fact, in the court’s opinion, it is apparent that Lodge’s horrific acts were entirely personally motivated. Given the facts alleged it seems Lodge's intention could not have been to serve his employer, as the acts were harmful to Harvard.

With the dismissal of the families' lawsuits, the spotlight now shifts to the federal court's handling of the case against Lodge. The outcome will undoubtedly have lasting implications for the trust in medical institutions and the sanctity of anatomical donations.

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