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Thursday, October 17, 2019

Mother given wrong infant's remains loses case at Georgia Supreme Court

By Dawn Geske | Mar 30, 2017

ATLANTA (Legal Newsline)  – The plaintiff in a lawsuit involving the mix-up of a stillborn infant's remains has lost her suit in the Georgia Supreme Court. She had cited emotional distress.

On March 6, the court ruled against Amanda Rae Coon, who had filed suit against a Columbus hospital, the Medical Center, after the remains of her stillborn baby were improperly labeled, resulting in the funeral and burial of the remains of a different child in 2011.

According to court documents, Coon gave birth to the stillborn baby girl at 37 weeks gestation after being induced at the Medical Center Inc. Per instructions of the father, the baby’s remains were to be released to a funeral home in Alabama, where they would be prepared for burial.

Prior to transport to the funeral home, a mix-up occurred with the baby girl’s remains, as another deceased infant was also placed in the holding room for transport. A nurse that volunteered to do the transport was to tag and identify the remains.

A security guard offered to help her in the process, which created a mix-up of the identification tags, resulting in the wrong baby’s remains being delivered to the Opelika, Alabama, funeral home, the court's opinion states.

On Feb 12, 2011, Coon held the funeral for the baby she believed was her own and proceeded to have the child buried. Two weeks later, the hospital discovered the error and contacted Coon to inform her of the mistake. The baby boy who was mistakenly buried was exhumed from the cemetery and delivered by the Opelika funeral director to the correct Columbus funeral home.

The funeral director also went to pick up Coon’s baby’s remains and discovered another error on the part of the hospital. When the cadaver bag was opened in Opelika, only a blanket was inside and not the Coon’s baby girl remains as planned. Again, the funeral director traveled from Opelika to Columbus to retrieve the baby girl’s remains. The hospital paid from the exhumation of the incorrect remains and the burial of Coon’s baby girl, court documents state.

Following the second burial in March 2011, Coon filed suit against the Medical Center, claiming emotional distress. The Medical Center argued that Coon had no basis for her claim under Georgia’s impact law as she suffered no physical injury or pecuniary loss.

Coon claimed that her emotional distress should be heard under Alabama law,  as this is where she was when she found out about the hospital’s mistake, in addition to this being the location of the funeral and burial. Under Alabama law, Coon would not have to prove physical injury or pecuniary loss or intentional or reckless misconduct by the hospital as the state doesn’t provide for an impact law in cases of this nature.

The trial court allowed summary judgment by the Medical Center based on the fact that using the Alabama law to govern would violate Georgia’s public policy. The court found in favor of the Medical Center as Coon could not show physical injury or pecuniary loss or intentional or reckless misconduct by the hospital. 

Coon took the case to the state Supreme Court, which upheld the appeals court’s decision stating, “The facts of this case, while tragic, do not warrant the creation of a new exception to the physical impact rule. Coon did not suffer any physical impact that resulted in physical injury from the hospital’s negligent mishandling of her stillborn child’s remains, nor did the child suffer any physical impact or injury.”

The court went on to say, “If we do not insist on a workable limiting principle as a prerequisite to recognition of new exceptions to the physical impact rule, the exception will soon swallow the rule.”

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Georgia Supreme Court