Judge rules against plaintiffs in body parts case

October 22, 2008 5:58:09 PM PDT
A federal judge has ruled against plaintiffs in a case involving stolen body parts that were sold for use in transplants. In a ruling published Wednesday, U.S. District Judge William J. Martini agreed with defense lawyers' claims that unprocessed bone tissue and bone paste stored at room temperature for 30 days or more is not capable of transmitting diseases such as HIV, syphilis or cancers.

He also granted defendants' motion to exclude the portions of testimony from plaintiffs' expert witnesses that dealt with those factors.

Martini said plaintiffs who received bone tissue or bone paste transplants and have tested negative for those and other diseases more than six months after their surgery have failed to establish grounds for suing on those claims.

"This is going to eliminate the vast majority of these cases.

There are very few that fit the criteria that the judge has established," said David W. Field, an attorney for LifeCell, a Branchburg-based company that provides products for soft tissue repair.

Kevin Dean, an attorney representing some plaintiffs, said he was still reviewing Martini's ruling. "We will continue to pursue the interest of all our clients to the full extent allowed under the law," he said.

The scandal dates back to February 2006, when Michael Mastromarino - then owner of Fort Lee-based Biomedical Tissue Services - and others were accused of cutting up corpses from funeral homes in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The bodies included that of "Masterpiece Theatre" host Alistair Cooke.

The parts were sold and used in about 10,000 surgical procedures performed by unsuspecting doctors in the U.S. and Canada.

Mastromarino pleaded guilty in March to enterprise corruption, body stealing and reckless endangerment. He is serving a prison term of 18 to 54 years.

Plaintiffs in the case include the donors' relatives and recipients of the processed tissue supplied by Biomedical Tissue Services.

Defendants include Biomedical Tissue Services; the funeral homes that provided the company access to the corpses; companies that processed tissue recovered from the cadavers into various medical products; companies that distributed the products and hospitals that performed the transplants.

The companies have said they never knew the body parts were illegally obtained, and that there is no evidence the transplanted tissue made anyone ill.

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