Settlement in Crematory Case
David Randolph Smith
David Randolph Smith Edmund J. Schmidt III
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$ 36M Settlement Reached in Crematory Case

By Leon Alligood
Associated Press/Nashville Tennessean writer
March 12, 2004
(link)

Funeral homes to pay families $36 million

Two years after investigators made the gruesome discovery of 334 decaying bodies in shallow graves and rusting coffins at Tri-State Crematory, a settlement in a federal class-action lawsuit resulting from the horrific find was announced yesterday in U.S. District Court in Rome, Ga.

Under the settlement, 58 funeral homes, including many in the Chattanooga area that sent bodies for incineration to Brent Marsh's Noble, Ga., facility will pay a total of $36 million dollars to plaintiffs.

Meanwhile, the Georgia Farm Bureau, who was the Marsh family's home insurance provider, will pay $3.5 million.

Nashville lawyers Katherine Barnett and David R. Smith represented families whose kin were not cremated.

''We are very pleased with the result,'' Smith said.

''Beyond the money issue, this is an important public policy case because funeral homes and crematories will remember the Tri-State fiasco, the event and the lawsuit. A purpose of tort law is deterrence, and we believe the deterrent function, as well as the compensation function, was achieved,'' he said.

The federal civil trial began last week with jury selection, and the plaintiffs began presenting their proof Monday.

Kathi Kelly of New London, N.H., was the first witness. Wann Funeral Home, of Chattanooga, sent her deceased mother and father to Tri-State for cremation.

''I'm very happy there has been a settlement,'' said Kelly, whose mother's remains were identified but her father's weren't.

While the settlement is a form of closure on the tragedy, she said she would never understand why the tragedy occurred at all.

''I don't know if it's just callous regard or what. I really can't imagine what he was thinking about,'' Kelly said, referring to crematorium operator Brent Marsh, who still faces 787 state felony charges in pending criminal litigation.

As part of the settlement, the Marsh family also agreed to preserve about two acres around the crematorium out of respect for those whose bodies were found there. All buildings will be removed and the area will be returned to a ''natural condition.'' There will be no public access to the site.

The plaintiffs ''seem to want a respectful, quiet place,'' said Marsh's attorney, Ken Poston.

The lawsuit, which was filed in 2002 in federal court in Rome, stemmed from accusations that Marsh did not burn the bodies but instead kept the bodies at his family business while giving grieving families cement dust as ashes.

U.S. District Judge Harold L. Murphy still must officially accept the agreement, which he is expected to do in a few days. Then the money will be given to the families.

The agreement makes no admission of guilt, so it should not affect the upcoming criminal case against Marsh, Poston said. It also ends the civil lawsuits that can be filed against Marsh, Poston said.

''However, this was a window to the criminal trial, as to what will be presented, and we expect he will be brought to justice in that trial,'' Smith said.

A trial date for the criminal proceeding has not been scheduled.

The money will be split among the families based on when the bodies were found, if the bodies were identified, and the insurance policies of the funeral homes.

The federal lawsuit was originally filed against the funeral homes, Marsh and the estate of Marsh's late father on behalf of 1,600 relatives of people whose bodies were sent to the crematory between 1988 and 2002 from funeral homes in Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama.

Smith said funds from the settlement would be distributed to the families in about two months.

''The members of the class action have to be notified, and they will have to complete forms,'' the attorney noted.

''But this story is all coming to a close.''

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