PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Lawsuits targeting the practices of a Maryland research lab that collected at least 99 brains from dead Mainers will proceed, a Superior Court judge has decided.
Justice Nancy Mills ruled that the actions of the Stanley Medical Research Institute of Bethesda and several other defendants do not constitute medical malpractice, as the defense had said.
Medical-malpractice lawsuits have a three-year statute of limitations in Maine, and all but one of the brains were taken before 2003.
Last week’s ruling allows 13 cases to move forward. The plaintiffs say the brains of their loved ones were removed from bodies at the state Medical Examiner’s Office without proper permission.
The Stanley institute uses brains in its research into mental illnesses and disorders.
All the defendants have denied wrongdoing. Defendants include the institute’s founder, Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, and Matthew Cyr of Bucksport, who was paid $1,000 to $2,000 for each brain he sent to the research lab.
The defendants argued that Dr. Torrey’s actions fall under Maine’s malpractice law and that Mr. Cyr was operating on his behalf.
But the plaintiffs’ attorney rejected the notion that a dispute involving a corpse is a health care matter.
In her nine-page ruling, Justice Mills said the cases do not fall within the requirements of the state malpractice law, known as the Maine Health Security Act, “because no health care practitioner or health care provider was involved.”
The attorney for Dr. Torrey and the institute, Thomas Laprade, acknowledged that the matter can’t be appealed until after the cases are concluded, but said he’s confident that his side will prevail.
“The more we learn about these cases, the more confident we get,” Mr. Laprade said.
Steven Silin, who represents seven of the suing families, said the defendants were trying to use the Maine Health Security Act as a shield, and that Justice Mills’ ruling “take that shield away from them.”