ROME, Ga. (AP) – An $80 million settlement was reached Thursday in a lawsuit against the operators of a crematory where the remains of 334 people were found strewn across the grounds.

The deal was struck during a trial over a lawsuit filed by nearly 1,700 people who said their relatives’ remains were mishandled at the Tri-State Crematory, operated by Ray Brent Marsh.

The bodies were supposed to have been cremated, but complete and partial human remains were found in storage buildings, in burial vaults, and in the surrounding forest.

The families face several more legal battles before getting paid. Since the crematory owners have few assets and little money, the settlement will hold up only if the owners’ insurer is found liable for the $80 million. A hearing on the matter will be held Friday.

“Everybody, quite frankly, wanted to get it over,” defense attorney Frank Jenkins said after the settlement was reached. “We want it over, we want healing, we want to go on with our lives and I think that’s what made it possible.”

Marsh, who still faces 787 criminal charges in an October trial, declined to comment.

An attorney for the families, Robert Darroch, said he is confident the settlement will allow the families to pursue their claims against the insurer, the Georgia Farm Bureau. The crematory’s owners had a homeowner’s insurance policy with the company.

But actually collecting money from the insurance company might be difficult.

“I have considerable doubt that they will ever get – ever – to the Georgia Farm Bureau,” said Jenkins. “There are some very high hurdles to get over.”

Georgia Farm Bureau officials did not immediately return telephone messages left Thursday by The Associated Press.

AP-ES-08-26-04 1838EDT

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