Monday, March 31, 2008
The Metropolitan News-Enterprise is fast becoming one of my favorite sources of contract law news. Last week, the News-Enterprise supplied the basis for a post about chutzpah. Today, the News- Enterprise reports on a fascinating case involving a missing cadaver.
In March 1996, Isol Cartheuser entered into an agreement with the University of California, Irvine (UCI) to donate her body to UCI's College of Medicine after her death. Ms. Cartheuser died later that year. Two years later, Ms. Cartheuser's grandson and adopted son, Butch Vanderpool, and his wife contacted UCI to learn when it would return Ms. Cartheuser's remains. They received no reply, and months later they learned of news stories about UCI's failure to keep track of donated bodies and unauthorized sales of body parts.
UCI eventually confirmed receipt of the body but explained that it had no information regarding the disposing of the cremated ashes. The Vanderpools and four other families then sued UCI alleging breach of contract and other causes of action. The breach of contract claim was apparently based on the Vanderpools' assertion that Ms. Cartheuser had agreed to donate her body on condition that her remains be returned to her family after UCI was done with it. California's Fourth District Court of Appeal rejected the Vanderpools' claim, finding that there was no such unambiguous promise, nor was it clear to whom the body was to be returned if there was such a promise.
Vanderpool v. Regents of the University of California can be found here (decided March 28th).