On January 1, 2004, a man was found almost dead by the New York City fire Department Emergency Medical Staff Officials on 178th Street and Jamaica Avenue in Queens County. He was taken to Mary Immaculate Hospital where he died the following day. There was no identification on his person and he was unresponsive and unable to tell hospital personnel who he was. The hospital staff were not provided with a telephone number for any next of kin and were unable to notify his family. Per hospital policy, the hospital notified the police department. The hospitalfrom that point depended on the police department to notify any next of kin.
On January 3, 2004, the hospital made contact with the Medical Examiner’s Office. It is hospital policy to inquire at the Medical Examiner’s Office if a patient dies within 24 hours of being admitted to the hospital. The Medical Examiner’s Investigator was advised and made notations to that effect in his notes that the decedent’s next of kin had not been located at that time. The hospital contends that at the time that they notified the Medical Examiner’s office, they were no longer responsible for locating the next of kin. They state that that responsibility was transferred to the Medical Examiner’s office.
The Medical Examiner’s office had the man’s body for two months, yet according to his family, made no efforts to identify him or to contact his next of kin during the time that they were in possession of his body. The Medical Examiner’s office also made not attempts to contact the police department to determine if they had identified the man or contacted his next of kin. The hospital maintains that it did all that it could do to find out who the man was and to notify the family. The hospital contends that the failure on the part of the Medical Examiner’s office to notify the family should not be their responsibility.
The family of the man presented a medical face sheet from the hospital that was filled out at the time that the man was admitted into the hospital. It clearly reflects the man’s full name, address, date of birth, and social security number. It states that the man was not transferred to the Medical Examiner’s office until January 4, 2004. The medical report showed a notation on January 2, 2004 from the doctor that stated that a Nursing supervisor would contact the family. The residence was very close to the hospital. The family contends that the hospital mishandled the body of their loved one by not taking any steps to notify them in a timely fashion that their loved one was in the hospital, or that he had become deceased. The laws of New York provide that a family has the right to sue for improper handling of a loved one’s body that prevents the family from being able to recover the body for proper burial. The case must hinge on the emotional effects that the interference with the body created.
The hospital filed a motion for summary judgment releasing them from liability in this case. They contend that they took every reasonable step to locate the next of kin and that they were released from liability at the point where the Medical Examiner’s office took possession of the man’s remains. The court does not agree. The court contends that the hospital had the necessary information in their hands to contact anyone else who lived at the same address as the decedent. Yet, even with this information, they made no attempt to contact the next of kin at that residence. The court denied the summary judgment and allowed the case to go to trial.
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