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Los Alamos Lab to Settle for $9.5M

October 4, 2001

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) _ More than 400 families who sued Los Alamos National Laboratory for conducting secret experiments on their relatives’ cadavers would share $9.5 million under a proposed settlement, a lawyer for one of the plaintiffs said Wednesday.

The University of California, which runs the laboratory, has agreed to pay $8 million and Banner Health System, which owns Los Alamos Medical Center, have offered to pay $1.5 million, said lawyer John Bienvenu.

The settlement must be approved by a judge. A hearing is scheduled for Jan. 11, 2002.

Lawyers for the lab and the plaintiffs agree that between 1959 and 1980 doctors at the Los Alamos hospital provided lab scientists with tissue samples from locally autopsied bodies for study. Scientists were to determine how much radiation lab workers and area residents had absorbed, and how their bodies processed it.

Families who signed autopsy release forms were not told of the study, nor were they told snippets of their relatives would end up in the hands of government scientists, the plaintiffs allege.

The class-action lawsuit was filed in 1996 by Katie Kelley Mareau whose father, Cecil Kelley, died in 1959 after being exposed to a plutonium mixture at the laboratory. His organs were the first tissues removed for the study. The lawsuit alleged that neither Mareau nor her mother knew when her father’s body was buried it was missing eight pounds of organs, tissues and bones.

``I am very glad that our efforts have been successful and justice has been achieved,″ Mareau said in a statement.

The laboratory issued a statement Wednesday saying ``express consent to use the autopsy tissue may not have been obtained from next of kin.″

``While the program was conducted with the best of intentions, and within the legal and ethical standards of the time, if initiated today it would be conducted under current informed consent practices that are more formal and highly detailed,″ the laboratory said.

Bienvenu said no settlement had been reached with the remaining defendant, a pathologist who performed about 300 of the autopsies between 1965 and 1978. A second pathologist who had been a defendant in the case has died.

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