Thursday, July 19, 2012

Court of Appeals Restores Decedent's Lawsuit Against Marion County Coroner's Office

Some of you may recall this case three years ago where the Marion County Coroner's Office came under fire for mistreatment of a corpse it was removing from an apartment building. The case involved a 700-pound woman who died in her bed. The Coroner's Office decided that the decedent's body was too large to remove from her apartment on a standard-sized stretcher so the Chief Deputy Coroner, Alfie Ballew, had the office summon a tow truck operator to the scene with a flatbed truck to aid in the removal of the decedent's body. Workers dragged the mattress on which the decedent's body was laying covered only by sheet out the back door and through the apartment's courtyard while neighbors looked on in horror.  The workers then used a winch to drag the mattress onto the truck. Once the workers got the mattress on the back of the truck, the decedent's body was covered with a dirty piece of carpet for transportation to the coroner's office so the body could be autopsied. One neighbor videotaped the coroner's office's handling of the decedent's body and turned it over to local TV stations. The video went viral and gained media attention nationwide. Ballew defended the office's actions, claiming it had transported other obese decedents by flatbed truck previously. Marion Co. Coroner Dr. Frank Lloyd defended his employee's action as respectful, although he conceded that he would not want a member of his own family transported in this fashion.

According to news reports at the time, John Linehan, the former chief deputy of the coroner's office, told reporters that ambulatory devices were available for use by the coroner's office to transport decedents weighing up to 1,000 pounds, which could fit into an ambulance for transportation."When they scoop up dead dogs off of the street they don't treat them that way," Linehan said. "It's just not the way to treat a human being."  You may recall that Linehan and other white deputy coroners and forensic pathologists who were employed by the office were fired as part of a scheme concocted by Ballew and the office's former coroner, Kenneth Ackles. to replace white employees of the office with black employees. The office wound up paying out close to $1 million to settle racial discrimination lawsuits brought against the office, not to mention the more than $1 million the office spent defending the various lawsuits. Despite the outrageous conduct of Ballew uncovered during the race discrimination litigation, including fabricating ghost employment allegations against Linehan, the coroner's office retained her as the office's chief deputy.

The decedent's son later sued the coroner's office in the Marion County Superior Court for negligent infliction of emotional distress and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Judge Timothy Oakes granted the coroner's office summary judgment on the son's claims, holding that the office was entitled to law enforcement immunity from liability under the Indiana Tort Claims Act and summary judgment on both of his claims against the coroner's office. On appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court, holding that the coroner's office was not entitled to immunity because it was not engaged in enforcement of the law during the transportation of the decedent's body. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's dismissal of the son's claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress because he failed to show that he suffered a direct physical injury from witnessing the removal of his mother's body; however, it reversed the trial court's grant of summary judgment on the son's intentional infliction of emotional distress claim. The court found that there was a genuine issue of material fact whether the coroner's office "conduct is so outrageous that it satisfies the reckless element of the tort. "While an attempt was made to shield her remains from the gathering pedestrians when winching the mattress onto the truck’s flatbed, designated evidence shows media footage of Smith’s remains being moved onto the flat bed and covered by a dirty carpet," the Court's opinion reads. "Interviewed witnesses expressed their indignation and outrage over the Coroner’s Office treatment of [the decedent]."

1 comment:

CircleCityScribe said...

The best remedy is to VOTE the fool elected Coroner OUT OF OFFICE!

This is not law suit material, it's loss of job stupid! The idiot should not be in office. for a law suit, its meritless as there is no practical remedy available in the court, other than a declaration that the Coroner is incompetent, insensitive, and a fool.