A man is suing a number of companies for causing his mesothelioma by exposing him to asbestos. In an unprecedented move, one of the companies involved in the personal injury lawsuit asked the trial judge to grant an order authorizing the company to conduct an autopsy on the man, believing that he might die before trial.
Many in North Carolina who read about this request in the media were relieved to learn that the judge denied the request. He held that the company, accused of being responsible for the disease causing the man’s suffering and terminal illness, had no right to make a “reservation” to autopsy his lifeless body.
Among other things, the company wanted to carve out tissue from the man’s lungs for testing. Their stance was that they only used “safe” asbestos, so there would be no asbestos found in the man’s lungs. The judge agreed with the victim’s attorney that there is simply no legal precedent for such an order authorizing a future autopsy on a still living person.
There are property rights over a decedent’s body. Clearly, no autopsy can be ordered now on a person who is alive, and the rights of the family in terms of authorizing an autopsy do not come into play until after a person is dead. The judge also noted that it was not even clear that the tests the defendant company wanted to run would prove anything material to the case.
The background to this situation is that companies which cause suffering and death by exposing people to toxic materials such asbestos use every mechanism possible to avoid taking responsibility. Then, to add insult (and further injury) to already catastrophic injury, they try to take advantage of the legal system to delay the victims ever getting their day in court.
Source: Courthouse News Service, “Mesothelioma Patient Beats Autopsy Demand,” Joe Harris, Sept. 12, 2012