Justice sometimes does triumph.
A Staten Island, N.Y., couple has won a $1 million judgment against the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office, which retained their dead son’s brain without their permission or knowledge, the New York Post reported Saturday.
In a macabre twist in an already freaky case, the parents of Jesse Shipley, 17, didn’t discover that they didn’t have his brain until some of his high school friends saw it in a marked jar during a field trip to Staten Island’s morgue.
Jesse was killed in a car crash in January 2005, and was autopsied by the local medical examiner. But the Medical Examiner’s Office returned Jesse’s body to his parents for burial without his brain, without mentioning that little tidbit to the Shipley family. Doctors wanted to perform tests on the organ, according to the Post.
Jesse’s family only learned that their son’s body was missing its brain when they buried it because of the shocking incident during the field trip. That when Jesse’s schoolmates chanced upon his brain in the jar, the Post reported.
Needless to say, the teens told Shipley’s surprised family what they had seen. If that wasn’t disturbing enough, “a Catholic priest told the family that Jesse’s burial wasn’t proper without his brain,” according to the Post.
The family didn’t get the brain back until October 2005, and they subsequently filed suit against the Medical Examiner’s Office. The city was liable, according to a Staten Island Supreme Court judge, under the so-called right of sepulcher, which says that a family is entitled to all the remains of a relative, according to the Post.
The defense didn’t have a leg to stand on. The city apparently contended that Jesse’s father Andre Shipley “would have known his son’s brain were being kept for further testing if he’d known to ask,” the Post reported.
It probably didn’t help the defense’s case, either, when a medical examiner said he keep Jesse’s brain hanging around in a jar because he waits until he has a half dozen brains before calling in a neuropathic examiner to study them, the Post said.
We hope in those other cases that the families knew their loved one’s brains had been withheld from them, unlike the Shipleys.
The Shipleys did lose one legal acton last year, when the family sued claiming that their son’s brain had been displayed unlawfully. An appellate court threw that claim out, the Post reported.
Attorney Gordon Johnson
Past Chair Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group, American Association of Justice
firstname.lastname@example.org :: 800-992-9447 :: Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.