Emotional Distress Improper Autopsy Compensatory Award Mistrial on Punitives Confidential Settlement

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December 07, 1998


Emotional Distress Improper Autopsy Compensatory Award Mistrial On Punitives Confidential Settlement

Brief Statement of Claim: The plaintiffs, the siblings of Dora Epps McNair, deceased, sought damages for emotional distress arising from the performance by defendant’s employees of a medical examiner autopsy performed on Ms. McNair’s remains, following her death during an invasive procedural. None of the organs removed during the autopsy were returned to the body. The family was unable to have an open casket funeral.

Although consent is not necessary for a medical examiner’s autopsy in North Carolina, the family members were never informed by the defendant that a full autopsy would be performed, and therefore they were deprived of their right to have the organs returned to the body.

The plaintiffs alleged that Duke was negligent in failing to inform them that an autopsy was going to be performed; in misinforming them as to the extent of the autopsy if it were performed; by exceeding the scope of a medical examiner’s autopsy in removing the spinal cord and eyes; and by performing the autopsy negligently, so that proper embalming was not possible, resulting in a closed casket during Ms. McNair’s funeral

Principal Injuries (in order of severity): The plaintiffs claimed that the defendant’s conduct proximately caused them severe mental and emotional suffering, shock, humiliation, anguish, and distress; injured their emotional interests; and interfered with their right to bury their sister’s body with integrity. Plaintiffs further claimed that the defendant’s conduct evidenced a reckless indifference to the rights of plaintiffs and constituted gross, willful, and wanton negligence.

Special Damages: n/a

Tried or settled: Verdict, followed by confidential settlement

County where tried or settled: Durham

Case Name and number: Epps v. Duke

Date Concluded: March 4, 1998, date of verdict

Name of Judge: Abraham Penn Jones

Amount: $142,500 in compensatory damages; mistrial on the amount of punitives when the last juror changed her mind regarding the $11.25 million verdict initially returned by the jury.

Insurance Carrier: n/a

Expert Witnesses and areas of expertise: For plaintiff: Page Hudson, MD, forensic pathology, former chief medical examiner, Greenville; Charles R. Wilson, Ph.D., professor of southern cultural studies, Univ. of Mississippi; for defendant: Donald Douthit, mortuary science, Cincinnati OH; Thomas Bouldin, MD, neuropathology, UNC at Chapel Hill; Donald Jason, MD, pathology, Bowman Gray School of Medicine, Winston-Salem

Attorneys for plaintiff: Adam Stein and Henderson Hill of Ferguson Stein Wallas Adkins & Gresham PA; Henderson Hill Wade E. Byrd, Fayetteville, and L. Lamar Armstrong, Smithfield

Other Useful Info: Following the verdict, there was a confidential settlement in an amount agreeable to all parties, according to the plaintiff’s attorney.

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