OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — The brother of a man whose corpse was used without permission for training by the Bellingham Fire Department can sue over it, the Washington Supreme Court said Thursday.
Eleven people at the fire department, including an account manager and a secretary, performed 15 intubations on the corpse of Bradley Ginn Sr. without permission from the family in 2018. Ginn died as paramedics were taking him to a hospital.
An investigation revealed that the department had for decades used bodies without permission to practice medical procedures.
The city has paid settlements totaling $325,000 to Ginn’s wife and children, but it claimed Ginn’s brother, Robert Fox, was not a relative defined in law as one who had responsibility for the disposition of the body. Thus, the city argued, he was not entitled to sue.
The justices disagreed in a 6-3 decision Thursday, saying the legal action for wrongful interference with a corpse was designed to compensate relatives who suffer from the mishandling of their loved one’s remains. The U.S. District Court in Seattle asked the justices to address the question as part of a federal lawsuit brought by Fox.
Writing for the majority, Justice Susan Owens said the court would not enumerate a list of specific relatives entitled to sue in such cases. She said each case would be determined based on an analysis of how close the relative was to the decedent and whether they might foreseeably suffer mental anguish from the mishandling of the remains.