A Schiller Park crematorium and funeral home at the center of litigation over allegations that human bodies donated for medical research were sold for parts and their families deceived into believing their deceased relatives’ remains had instead been cremated may need to face the flurry of lawsuits without the aid of their insurer.
On Oct. 14, New Hampshire-based Peerless Indemnity Insurance Company filed a complaint in Cook County Circuit Court, asking the judge to declare it has no duty to defend Cremation Services Inc. against the lawsuits brought by the families over the alleged “illegal scheme.”
Peerless had issued liability insurance policies to Cremation Services, offering as much as $4 million in coverage, valid through the end of 2015. But Peerless has contended none of the allegations Cremation Services faces, including accusations of fraud and other illegal activity, would qualify for coverage under those policies, as they would fall under a range of exclusions.
A number of plaintiffs slapped Cremation Services with the legal actions earlier this year, after news broke of a federal investigation involving the Schiller Park business and the affiliated Biological Resource Center of Illinois.
Beginning 2013, federal agents launched an inquiry into a purported scheme to ship and sell human body parts in the U.S. and internationally for profit. The investigation began with the execution of search warrants on International Biological Inc., spreading to other entities connected with the alleged scheme, including the Cook County locations of Cremation Services and BRCI in the months and years following.
The FBI raided the Chicago area businesses in early 2015, and eventually informed various families they had been able to identify body parts as those of their deceased relatives, who had donated their bodies, through the BRCI, for medical and scientific research. The families had been told by Cremation Services their relatives’ remains had been cremated, and were even presented with ashes representatives of Cremation Services asserted to be those of their deceased relatives.
In the months following, 14 relatives of deceased individuals whose bodies had been handled by the BRCI and Cremation Services filed suit in Cook County against the BRCI, Cremation Services and Donald A. Greene, who ran both businesses.
The complaints alleged fraud, wrongful disposition of a body, conspiracy and intentional infliction of emotional distress, among other allegations. One of the complaints is a class action against the defendants.
Attorneys representing the families suing BRCI and Cremation Services include those of the firm of Krislov & Associates and the firm of Lucas and Cardenas, both of Chicago.
In its complaint, Peerless has asked the court to declare it has no obligation to defend Cremation Services against the lawsuits, and has asked the court to order Cremation Services to repay any costs paid in defense of the company by the insurer under a reservation of rights.
Peerless Insurance is represented in the action by attorneys Alex Mahler and Regina A. Ripley, of the firm of Gordon & Rees LLP, of Chicago.