A Philadelphia judge has denied a motion for summary judgment by Albert
Einstein Medical Center in a case brought by the son of a deceased man whose body was turned over to Temple University’s Medical School over the objection of the family.
Common Pleas Court Judge Frederica Massiah-Jackson turned down the hospital’s request for summary judgment in a case brought by Douchan Weiley in the fall of 2010.
In his lawsuit, Weiley alleged that the hospital directly went against the family’s wishes when it gave the body of Elmer Weiley to Temple for the purposes of education, despite the fact that Einstein knew the plaintiff’s father did not OK organ donation or dissection.
Elmer Weiley, the record shows, died on Jan. 23, 2009, nearly two weeks after being admitted to Einstein in downtown Philadelphia.
Four days after the death, Douchan Weiley was told by Einstein’s Social Services Department that his father’s body had been transferred to Hancock Funeral Home, which in turn sent the body to Temple for medical education.
When the plaintiff went to Temple to attempt to retrieve the body, he learned Elmer Weiley’s corpse had been tampered with.
Specifically, the body had scars to the face, head and other parts of the anatomy, and there was evidence that the brain had been removed, according to court papers.
Douchan Weiley subsequently filed suit, but a Philadelphia judge sustained defense preliminary objections and ultimately dismissed the complaint.
The state Superior Court, however, affirmed in part and reversed in part the rulings on the defense motions, and the case was sent back to Common Pleas Court in Philadelphia for trial on the remaining issues.
The appellate judges concluded that a jury should determine the merits of the plaintiff’s claims for tortious interference with a dead body and punitive damages against Einstein Medical Center.
In its opinion, the Superior Court wrote that it was clear Douchan Weiley was the only family member entitled to disposition of his father’s body, and that that privilege or authority was never transferred to the hospital.
The appeals judges wrote that the hospital’s “unauthorized conduct” began the chain of events that ended with the body being dissected by medical students, and that, given Einstein’s knowledge of Weiley’s contrary wishes “and the plaintiff’s distraught feelings and involvement as expressed throughout the time of his father’s treatment, a factfinder could conclude that Hospital was substantially certain that Weiley would suffer serious emotional distress, sufficient for the ‘intentional’ portion of [Restatement (First) of Torts] section 868.”
In her April 22 memorandum opinion, Massiah-Jackson wrote that it is clear from the record and from the Superior Court’s opinion that there are many issues of fact for a jury to determine.
Einstein’s lawyers argued in its motion for summary judgment that the court should rule as a matter of law that the defendant is immune from liability, but Massiah-Jackson disagreed, writing that the affirmative defenses are Einstein’s burden of proof.
“Einstein Hospital’s conduct, i.e. ‘good faith’ and/or ‘intent’ must be assessed by the triers of act,” the judge wrote.
The judge wrote that Einstein would have the opportunity at trial to show whether it had actual notice from the family of opposition to donating the deceased man’s body to science.
If the jury determines that compensatory damages are appropriate, the Superior Court has directed that the claim for punitive damages is to be assessed by the factfinders, Massiah-Jackson wrote.