Yes, a hospital can be liable for mishandling a corpse under theories of negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Generally, the family member seeking damages must have a ?quasi-property? right, which proves that the family member is in fact the decedent’s next of kin, in order to recover.
To recover from a hospital for the mishandling of a corpse, a family member must generally prove that the hospital owed a duty of care, and a breach of that duty caused the plaintiff?s injuries. The duty of the hospital is based on the standard of care reasonably to be expected of someone dealing with corpses.
Some courts require family members to show physical symptoms of emotional distress to recover for injuries following a hospital’s mistreatment of a body. For a majority of courts, however, proof of emotional suffering alone is enough to establish recovery.
Similarly, courts differ on the severity of the emotional distress required to permit recovery. Some courts require that the anguish be so severe that a reasonable individual could not be expected to bear it, while other courts have held that the emotional harm must be that which a reasonable person would have sustained under the circumstances.
Various types of conduct has given rise to hospital liability for mishandling a corpse. For example, hospitals have been held liable for:
- failing to remove a brain-dead patient from life support
- misplacing a body
- mistakenly including body parts in a decedent’s personal effects.
However, hospitals have not been found liable in cases in which hospitals were accused of:
- disrespectful treatment of the body immediately following the decedent’s death in an emergency room
- disposing of the decedent’s remains in a manner other than that indicated by the next of kin
- failing to dispose of the decedent’s remains in a timely manner
- failing to perform an autopsy
Courts are split in cases in which hospitals were accused of allowing the body to decompose, with some courts finding liability and other courts finding no liability, depending on the particular circumstances. The same is true in cases in which hospitals were accused of delivering the wrong body to the funeral home.
The death of a family member is always a difficult and emotional time. If you believe that a hospital has mistreated the body of your family member, you should consult an personal injury attorney. Proving your case can be difficult, but an attorney can deal with the hospital and explain the law so that you can assert your right to recover damages for your injuries.