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.