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Harvard Hit with Multiple New Class Action Lawsuits Over Former Morgue Manager’s Mishandling of Human Remains

The Harvard Crimson

Photo byYahir Santillan-Guzman

By Claire Yuan, Crimson Staff Writer

July 26, 2023

Families affected by the mishandling of human remains donated to Harvard Medical School filed two more class-action lawsuits earlier this month against the University.

Cedric Lodge, who worked in the Anatomical Gift Program’s morgue, was accused by federal prosecutors of stealing and transporting human remainsand indicted on charges of conspiracy and aiding and abetting the interstate transport of stolen goods.

These are not the first class-action lawsuits to hit Harvard in the aftermath of the federal investigation and Lodge’s indictment. Last month, Keches Law Group filed a class action lawsuit against the University and Lodge, alleging negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, and infliction of emotional distress.

University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain and Harvard Medical School spokesperson Ekaterina D. Pesheva declined to comment on the ongoing litigation.

The second class-action lawsuit, filed on July 13 against Harvard College and Harvard Medical School, presents new details on Lodge’s behavior during his employment at the morgue, pointing to his car’s “flippant vanity” license plate that read “Grim-R” — a reference to the grim reaper, the suit argues — and public Facebook posts depicting Lodge dressed as an undertaker.

“This ghoulish black market was allowed to flourish in plain sight operated by an HMS morgue employee whose lack of respect for the dead was obvious to anyone who scrutinized his behavior,” the filing reads.

“Harvard became aware or should have become aware of problems with Lodge indicating his unfitness to serve in his position,” it continues.

Anne Weiss, the lead plaintiff in the second class-action suit, sought legal action against the Medical School and the University after receiving a letter from Harvard Medical School Dean George Q. Daley ’82 indicating that her father’s remains may have been among those mishandled.

The lawsuit alleges that Harvard and Harvard Medical School breached a duty to preserve the rights and dignity of donated remains, thus inflicting “severe emotional distress” on the plaintiffs.

Harvard’s “actions were outrageous in character, go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and are to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized community,” the suit reads.

Filed in the Massachusetts Suffolk County Superior Court by Sauder Schelkopf and Bochetto & Lentz, the lawsuit sets forth four counts, alleging intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence, interference with a corpse, and negligent hiring, supervision, and retention.

The suit also cited a similar incident at the University of California, Los Angeles Medical School in 2004 — in which cadavers were mishandled and sold — resulting in new, more stringent guidelines at the West Coast school.

The public nature of the UCLA case, the lawsuit argues, should have led Harvard Medical School to be more diligent in taking “basic precautions.”

“Managers at Harvard Medical School—which solicits and accepts donated human remains—would have been aware of the risks revealed by the UCLA case,” the filing reads. “Here, HMS either did not have strict auditing practices which would have detected Lodge’s malfeasance before it was allowed to persist for a period of years, or if they did have such guidelines, they failed to follow them.”

Lodge is not currently a defendant in this class action, but Joseph G. Sauder — one of the attorneys behind the second suit — confirmed in a written statement that more parties may be added.

Sauder and Bryan R. Lentz — another lawyer on the case — said in a press release that they “look forward to litigating this case on behalf of our client, whose father’s remains were entrusted to Harvard Medical School.”

“Harvard Medical School failed him, his family, and everyone impacted by these horrific acts,” they added.

The second lawsuit filed this month marks the third faced by Harvard and the second by Lodge.

The first suit filed in federal court, the third class-action lawsuit, filed against Harvard College and Lodge, alleges nine counts, including negligence, reckless infliction of emotional distress, breach of contract, and tortious interference with remains.

Robert Johnson — the lead plaintiff in the third suit, which was filed by Mazow | McCullough — is the son of Anne Weaver, who donated her body to the Harvard Medical School morgue following her death in 2017. Now, Johnson believes his mother’s remains to be among those mishandled.

Harvard’s “reckless disregard of the consequences” constituted a “gross dereliction of their duties,” the filing reads.

Lodge could not be reached for comment.

—Staff writer Claire Yuan can be reached at claire.yuan@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @claireyuan33.

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