Hear Ye! Hear Ye! explores a real court case. Read about it below and decide how you would rule. Then read the actual verdict and let us know whether you agree.
Real-life body snatching came to the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) at Galveston — and it wasn't pretty.
Part of the Texas State University System, UTMB, which has both a hospital and medical school, started the Willed Body Program to provide cadavers for medical students. The program encouraged people to donate their bodies for medical research. The program's employees assured donors that they would be advancing the cause of medicine. Any individual could will his or her body to the program, or family members could donate the body of a deceased relative. Once the university was finished with the bodies, the cremated remains would be returned to families that requested them.
Body parts for sale
In the spring of 2002, UTMB learned that bodies had been mishandled. Allen Tyler Jr., the supervisor of the program, was accused of transferring or selling bodies or parts of bodies to other states.
Decisions from the families' lawsuits, which were heard by various courts of appeal in Texas, came to the same conclusion: Because the donors had entered into a contract with the university, the only way the families could sue would be to overcome sovereign immunity. The Texas legislature had to pass a statute or resolution giving the families authority to sue the university.
Although the families tried to argue that they did not have a contract case, but rather a case for negligence, the courts disagreed. If there had been no contract, the courts explained, a negligence claim could have been allowed, because negligence claims against the state have a statutory exception.
But since there was a contract, sovereign immunity applied, despite the fact that negligence may have existed. The courts held that UTMB had no liability to the families.
During the 2005 legislative session, the Texas Senate passed a resolution that would have allowed all of the family plaintiffs to sue the university. The resolution was sent to the Texas House of Representatives, where it died in the State Affairs Committee.
None of the families received monetary compensation from UTMB.
Robin Gerber is a lawyer and the author of Barbie and Ruth: The Story of the World's Most Famous Doll and the Woman Who Created Her.