Patient over Medicated with Blood Thinners and Laboratory Tests Overlooked by Physicians Resulting in Paraplegia and Death. During the Medical Malpractice Case, the Widow Discovered That Husband’s Organs Were Retained at Autopsy Without Her Consent

Forty-seven-year old man underwent routine mitral valve replacement with success. Subsequent to surgery, he was prescribed coumadin and followed the physician’s directive to have regular lab tests to monitor the medication. He presented to the hospital with chest pain and difficulty breathing. Over the next 30 hours, lab values were grossly abnormal in his coagulation factors. These lab values went undetected by the doctors and the patient bled into his heart sac and suffered 3 cardiac arrests before the doctors appreciated that their patient was bleeding at the surgery site. He was rendered a paraplegic at 47-years of age and died nine months later.

His widow brought suit against the hospital and the physicians who treated her husband alleging that they were negligent in their treatment of her husband and caused his untimely death.

As trial approached in the medical malpractice case, the defendants disclosed their exhibit list. One exhibit listed was “…Heart, Brain & Spinal Cord.” The attorneys conducted an investigation and learned that the defendants and their lawyers had retained these organs at autopsy without the consent of the widow and shipped them around the country in search of a defense to the above malpractice claim. The defendants refused to return the organs and honor the family’s religious principles, that all of the decedent’s remains be properly buried. A replevin action was filed, as were causes of action also filed for conversion of human body parts and the tort of outrage.

Outcome:

A confidential settlement shortly after this action was filed and consolidated with the medical malpractice case. Thereafter, the medical industry successfully lobbied to change the autopsy statute to permit doctors to retain organs at the time of autopsy for use in litigation without the family's consent.