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Education/Training

Legal Lesson of the Month: Interference With a Corpse

EMS can be full of interesting and tricky legal scenarios. While you can’t have an attorney ride with you, it behooves providers to have at least some familiarity with the principles, precedents, and major issues of EMS law. To that end EMS World is pleased to offer the EMS Legal Lesson of the Month.

These cases are presented by prominent attorneys in the EMS field. This month’s comes from Larry Bennett, program chair for fire science and emergency management at the University of Cincinnati. Bennett’s department publishes a monthly Fire & EMS and Safety Law newsletter; subscribe to that by e-mailing Lawrence.bennett@uc.edu or read the latest edition here. Find this case and more in his newsletter archive

Case: Robert Fox v. City of Bellingham, Wash.

Decided: March 2021

Verdict: The Washington State Supreme Court held 6–3 in response to a question by U.S. district judge that Fox, the brother of deceased patient Bradley Ginn, on whose deceased body firefighters practiced intubation, has standing to sue for tortious interference with a corpse.

Facts: Ginn died in 2018. When the hospital in Bellingham did not have space to store his body, the fire department brought it to the station. There department personnel, without permission from Ginn’s family, used Ginn’s body for a training exercise in which fire department employees intubated Ginn’s deceased body approximately 15 times.

The city subsequently paid $75,000 to Ginn’s adult children and is being sued by his wife. However, it moved for summary judgment against Fox’s claim, arguing that because he was not the designated custodian of his brother’s remains, he lacked standing to sue.

Washington’s Supreme Court found its relevant state law didn’t govern who had standing for tortious interference with a corpse and Fox was in the class of foreseeable plaintiffs with standing to bring suit.

Key quote: “Mr. Fox lived with his brother during his adult life, and the two spoke to each other weekly. Mr. Fox took part in preparing his brother’s end-of-life celebration. Based on these facts, Mr. Fox has put forth sufficient evidence that he is a ‘close relative’ of his brother and, therefore, has standing to bring suit.”

Legal lesson: Do not use bodies for training without written permission of their spouse or other immediate family members. This incident drew terrible press—the 11 employees who intubated Ginn included an account manager and an office secretary. 

 

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