Tuesday, July 2, 2019

No Claim for Alleged Negligent Handling of Corpse Recognized in Pennsylvania

In the case of Casey v. Presbyterian Medical Center, No. 160203594 (C.P. Phila. Co. April 9, 2019 Cohen, J.), the court confirmed that Pennsylvania law does not recognize a cause of action for alleged psychological injuries stemming from another’s alleged negligent handling of a corpse.  

This matter came before the court by way of a Motion for Summary Judgment.  According to the Opinion, the decedent was transported by ambulance to the Presbyterian Hospital and later passed away.   The decedent’s body was transferred to the hospital morgue, where it was stored in a refrigerated location. 

Four (4) days after the decedent’s death, a hospital representative advised the family that the morgue’s refrigerator had malfunctioned, causing the decedent’s body to rapidly decay. The decedent’s body had to be cremated due to the corpse’s deteriorated state, thereby depriving the decedent’s relatives the ability to hold an open casket funeral, as was their alleged wish in accordance with the religious beliefs.   

None of the relatives of the decedent personally saw the corpse after the refrigerated malfunctioned. However, an unidentified funeral director allegedly took pictures of the body prior to the cremation and showed them to the Plaintiff, one of the decedent’s sons.   That person immediately became nauseous upon seeing the photos and allegedly continued to be affected thereafter.  

The decedent’s relatives filed a negligence cause of action against the hospital and related parties.   The Plaintiffs alleged that the Defendants handled the refrigeration and preservation of the decedent’s corpse in a negligent manner.   Among other claims, the Plaintiffs asserted a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress.  

As noted above, the Motion for Summary Judgment was granted and, when the Plaintiffs appealed, the court wrote this Rule 1925 Opinion for the benefit of the appellate court.   The court held that, under the case of Hackett v. United Airlines, 528 A.2d 971, 973 (Pa. Super. 1987), Pennsylvania law did not recognize a claim for mental suffering allegedly caused by the tortious interference with a dead body.   Given that the Plaintiff failed to allege a cognizable cause of action, the trial court had entered summary judgment.  

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK.

Source:  “Digest of Recent Opinions.” Pennsylvania Law Weekly (May 21, 2019). 

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