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Negligent Mishandling of an Infant’s Body (Corpse) by Hospital in New Jersey – Legal Rights and Damages by the Family

By David Wolf, Attorney
Published by Child Injury Lawyer Network

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Jersey City Hospital was the site of a tragedy recently. A baby died or was pronounced dead at the hospital. Thereafter, it appears that the baby was thrown out with the trash. New Jersey police then began an investigation to locate the remains by searching through the hospital trash and dumps where the body may have been taken. After a week or searching, the body / remains were never located.
Jersey City Police Chief Thomas Comey suspects that the body may have been incinerated or cremated.

In life and death, there is ceremony that is vitally important for family and religious reasons. A funeral, viewing, eulogy, celebration of life, and honoring of death are important to family members, friends, and community in grief over the death of a child. In Jersey City, New Jersey, these vital ceremonies, services, and prayers were all lost due to the negligence of the Jersey City Hospital and its staff. You can read about this story at Baby Lost / Thrown Out with Trash at Jersey City Hospital.

I have handled Tortious Interference with Body / Corpse Cases in the past. They are interesting, challenging, and, yes, tragic. While there are no physical injuries involved with such a case, the laws of many States including New Jersey recognize that the negligent mishandling of a corpse involves such serious and genunine emotional distress that a cause of action should be recognized. According to the Restatement of Torts (which is a generally body of tort laws and theories that many States have chosen to adopt or follow), a case for negligent mishandling of a corpse may be brought in a civil court since:
1. the negligent mishandling of a body involves a high probability that there will be genuine and serious emotional distress by the family;

2. a hospital, funeral home, government, or other entity responsible for the caretaking of the body can foresee that the loss or mishandling of the body would cause serious emotional distress by the family;

3. just because it is difficult to calculate or determine damages does not mean that the family should not have a cause of action to take to court; and

4. by disallowing such a cause of action would give immunity or free reign to those responsible for making sure that the body is properly handled.

Dealing with a death of a baby is hard enough for a family. When instances occur that a proper ceremony are impossible, the emotional harm is serious, real, and probably permanent in nature.