Appeals court reverses $1.5 million organ incineration award

Scales of Justice

A Florida appeals court has reversed the final judgment of a lower court that awarded $1.5 million to the daughter of a woman whose organs were incinerated after autopsy.

I first wrote about this case on September 10, 2012, right after the original verdict was announced, and then again nine days later after a local news report raised some interesting questions about the case.


Ms. Sharren Sutka died on March 27, 2005* at Winter Haven Hospital in Winter Haven Florida.  Her daughter, Brandy Kay Liles, who stated in a 2006 article she was concerned her mother may have received an inadvertent morphine overdose while in the hospital, requested an autopsy.

Dr. Phillip Gordon, a partner at Ridge Pathology Consultants, performed the autopsy.  After the autopsy, Dr. Gordon placed Ms. Sutka’s organs in a red biohazard bag and turned the bag over to the hospital, which incinerated the organs.

Ms. Sutka’s body (sans organs) was released to the funeral home and she was buried on April 7, 2005.

In his final autopsy report that was released on April 18, 2005, Dr. Gordon opined the cause of Ms. Sutka’s death was:

…respiratory arrest, secondary to desquamative interstitial pnuemonia, with pulmonary hemorrhage, possibly complicated by sleep apnea and morbid obesity, DIP, secondary to smoking.

Ms. Liles was apparently not happy with the results of the autopsy, and inquired at the funeral home about performing a second autopsy.  The funeral home told her her mother’s organs had not been sent with the body.  When Ms. Liles asked the hospital about her mother’s organs, the hospital told her they had been incinerated.

This angered Ms. Liles, who stated she could not get a second autopsy, nor could she respect her mother’s last wish, which was to be buried and not cremated, because the organs were incinerated.

She subsequently filed suit against Dr. Gordon, Ridge Pathology Consultants and Winter Haven Hospital alleging intentional infliction of emotional distress (tort of outrage), and conspiracy.  She also alleged vicarious liability against Ridge Pathology and Winter Haven Hospital for Dr. Gordon’s actions.

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Cigna sues Health Diagnostic Laboratory for fee-forgiving fraud

Health insurance provider Cigna has filed suit against Health Diagnostic Laboratory (HDL), alleging HDL unlawfully obtained at least $84 million from it through a "fraudulent fee-forgiving scheme". Readers will recall HDL is one of the laboratories being investigated by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for the Department of Health and Human Services for possibly paying kickbacks to physicians in exchange for referrals. Not soon after that fact came to light, the HDL CEO, Tonya … [Continue reading]

Mayo Clinic sues Dr. Franklin Cockerill, Chief Laboratory Officer of Quest Diagnostics


A couple of weeks ago, I briefly mentioned how Dr. Franklin Cockerill, former chairman of the Mayo Clinic Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology (DLMP) and chief of Mayo Medical Laboratories (MML), started his new job as vice president and Chief Laboratory Officer of Quest Diagnostics on October 1, 2014.  On October 14, 2014, the Mayo Clinic filed a civil lawsuit against Dr. Cockerill that alleges, among other things, misappropriation of trade secrets. Facts/Allegations The … [Continue reading]

Bostwick Laboratories settles whistleblower suit for $6.05 million

Bostwick Laboratories (BL) has settled the federal qui tam (whistleblower) lawsuit filed by Michael Daugherty of LabMD that alleged False Claims Act violations for $6.048 million.  This settlement does not resolve allegations against Dr. David Bostwick, who is a separate defendant in the case. I first wrote about this case in January 2013, when Senior District Judge Arthur Spiegel denied BL's motion to dismiss, and again in May 2014 to simply provide a quick update on where the case … [Continue reading]

Interview with Dr. Vinay Kumar, editor of Robbins and Cotran Pathologic Basis of Disease

Cover Ninth Edition

Elsevier recently published the ninth edition of Robbins and Cotran Pathologic Basis of Disease.  An account executive with the public relations firm that represents Elsevier reached out and asked if I would be interested in asking Dr. Vinay Kumar, one of the editors of Robbins, a few questions about the book. I have fond memories of reading Robbins (twice, as I recall, with the exception of the eye chapter) during my second year of medical school, as well as referring to it on multiple … [Continue reading]

Quest Diagnostics, LabCorp accused of duplicative testing, billing in recently unsealed suit

A former phlebotomist for Quest Diagnostics filed a qui tam (whistleblower) suit on July 27, 2012, alleging her former employer and LabCorp knowingly submitted "false and fraudulent claims to the United States and the State of California...for the same tests, performed on the same day, on the same patient" since at least 2002.  The suit was unsealed on October 6th, 2014 after a US District judge denied the federal government's motion for a fifth extension of time to consider whether it would … [Continue reading]

Pathology Blawg News Roundup for October 10, 2014

FDA releases draft LDT regulation guidance documents On October 3rd, the Food and Drug Administration released two guidance documents concerning the regulation of laboratory-developed tests (LDTs). The first is entitled "Framework for Regulatory Oversight of Laboratory Developed Tests" and provides: ...guidance to clinical laboratories that manufacture LDTs about how FDA (the Agency) intends to enforce authorities that apply to such laboratories as medical device manufacturers. The second is … [Continue reading]

Owner of Bristol Laboratories indicted for healthcare fraud and kickbacks

Beth Palin, a non-practicing attorney and owner of Bristol Laboratories (BL) and Mountain Empire Medical Care (MEMC), has been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of healthcare fraud, conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud and offering or paying a kickback.  Palin's husband, Joseph Webb, was indicted on the same charges, and otolaryngologist Dr. Mary Curtiss was indicted on charges of healthcare fraud, conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud and receiving a kickback. Allegations Dr. … [Continue reading]

UnitedHealthcare delays Lab Benefit Management Program; Forensic pathologist Dr. Norman Thiersch resigns

Dr. Norman Thiersch (Herald of Everett Washington)

BeaconLBS Back in July, I talked about UnitedHealthcare's (UHC) Laboratory Benefit Management Program (LBMP) that is to be administered by Beacon Laboratory Benefit Services, Inc. (BeaconLBS), a wholly-owned subsidiary of LabCorp. Readers can refer to my previous post for more specific information, but basically, the LBMP appears to be very cumbersome and will require physicians to notify BeaconLBS before ordering certain laboratory tests, including anatomic pathology. … [Continue reading]

Taking a little break

I have been absolutely knocked flat by a nasty little bug and need to take a few days to convalesce. I will resume posting as soon as I can. … [Continue reading]

Abington Memorial Hospital laboratory accused of Medicare, Medicaid fraud

AMH logo

A former employee of Abington Memorial Hospital (AMH) in Pennsylvania has filed a federal lawsuit that alleges the hospital laboratory committed Medicare and Medicaid fraud and that she was retaliated against and wrongfully terminated after she informed hospital administration of the lab's actions. Background/Allegations Ms. Joanne Cleighton was hired by AMH in February 1988 to work in the registration office.  Two years later she was promoted to supervisor and fourteen years after that she … [Continue reading]

Pathology Blawg News Roundup for September 26, 2014

Health Diagnostic Laboratory CEO resigns Ms. Tonya Mallory, CEO of Health Diagnostic Laboratory (HDL), has officially resigned, reportedly because she wants to help her brother open a new business. HDL first came to my attention a couple of weeks ago after the Wall Street Journal wrote an expose about how the federal government was investigating HDL for possibly paying kickbacks to physicians. Since then, Forbes published an article about HDL that discusses "a broader pattern of serious … [Continue reading]

Quest Diagnostics avoids class action lawsuit for overbilling, fraud

An appellate court has upheld a ruling by a lower court that denied certification of a class action lawsuit against Quest Diagnostics, which was accused of unjust enrichment and state law consumer fraud by overbilling patients for laboratory testing. Background The plaintiffs claimed Quest routinely billed patients more than the amount reported on the Explanation of Benefits (EOB) or Electronic Remittance Advice (ERA). They proposed certification of multiple classes: All persons who were … [Continue reading]

The College of American Pathologists’ House of Delegates: What Does It Do?

  Regular readers of this site know I believe pathologist overutilization of tests and services is a very important issue, from both ethical and economic standpoints.  I was hopeful the issue would be discussed at the recent annual meeting of the College of American Pathologists (CAP), and indeed it was brought up at the House of Delegates. But according to Delegates who attended the meeting, the increasingly lively discussion was abruptly ended by the new Speaker of the House, Dr. … [Continue reading]

American Society for Clinical Pathology 2012-2013 financial information

A couple of weeks ago I posted the publically-disclosed 2012 Form 990 for the College of American Pathologists (CAP), so I suppose it is only fair I do the same for the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) as well. As before, the information contained in the post is not an exhaustive account of the available information in the ASCP's Form 990, but rather more or less the same data I posted for the CAP. For those interested, the ASCP's entire Form 990 is here. Disclosed … [Continue reading]