Hospital Killing to Harvest Organs? Wrongful Death Suit Filed

March 18, 2009

gregory-jacobsBecause of all of the personal injury and tort cases I see going through our office, I find this case very interesting.
On March 4th, Michael Jacobs filed suit in the District Court of Western Pennsylvania (click here for the Complaint, HT Erie Blogs) against the Center for Organ Recovery and Education (“CORE”) for wrongfully causing the death of their son in order to harvest his organs.  Michael and Teresa Jacobs’ 18 year old son Gregory sustained an injury to the head in a snowboarding accident in New York  in March of 2007, according to ABC News. He was airlifted to a hospital in Pennsylvania where he died and his parents agreed to donate his organs to others.

Because Mr. Jacobs is suing CORE in Federal court based on diversity jurisdiction, the court will have to decide which state’s laws to apply. Here, Gregory sustained his injuries in New York (the family is from Ohio), but the hospital where the alleged wrongful death took place was in Pennsylvania, because the boy was airlifted to that hospital from the site of the accident.  I would think that since the majority of the alleged wrongful conduct took place in Pennsylvania and I would assume that the majority of the witnesses, parties and evidence that relates to the alleged conduct is in Pennsylvania, the District Court will probably apply Pennsylvania law.

According to the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes § 8301(a), “[a]n action may be brought…to recover damages for the death of an individual caused by the wrongful act or negligent or unlawful violence or negligence of another if no recovery… was obtained by the injured individual during his lifetime… to avoid a duplicate recovery.”

According to Mr. Jacobs, the hospital negligently informed him that Gregory was brain dead before he had actually been brain dead, and that he agreed to have Gregory’s organs donated on that basis. The hospital officials state that Gregory was definitely brain dead when they removed his respiration and began to remove the organs.

It will be interesting to see whether the hospital, in fact, did not follow procedure and whether they were negligent such that the Jacobs will be able to prove, by at least a preponderance of the evidence, that the hospital was indeed negligent in taking Gregory off of life support and beginning to remove his organs before he was actually brain dead.

I think that many people find this story particularly fascinating because they harbor a quiet, morbid fear of having their own organs removed while they are still alive.  The facts of this case may not fully come out until a full trial, but it is indeed possible that the family of the deceased are merely grasping at straws and seizing upon what could be an innocuous discrepancy in the hospital’s records to build a case that may actually be baseless. Only time will tell but I am sure that many of us will be watching it with great interest.

Picture of Gregory Jacobs courtesy of ABC News.


3 Responses to “Hospital Killing to Harvest Organs? Wrongful Death Suit Filed”

  1. rrsafety Says:

    It is important to note in this case that the local authorities chose not to press murder charges against the hospital as they determined that the the patient was indeed dead when the organs were recovered.

  2. That is indeed a good point and worth noting. But it is not dispositive. The tort of wrongful death and the criminal charge of murder, to whatever degree, have different standards of proof that may also explain why a prosecutor may choose not to press murder charges, while a jury may still reasonably hold the hospital and doctors liable for wrongful death.

    The standard of proof for a criminal charge is proof “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is a much greater burden to overcome than simply proving that it is “more likely than not” that the person is guilty. For wrongful death, however, the plaintiff only has to prove by “preponderance of the evidence,” or that it is “more likely than not” that the defendant wrongfully caused the death of the decedent.

    I am certainly not saying that I am of the opinion that the plaintiffs here can meet that burden. But I am saying that a prosecutor’s decision that he would not be successful with criminal charges doesn’t necessarily have any bearing on whether there is civil liability. (Think OJ Simpson!)

  3. Chris Says:

    What new? Anything for a buck…welcome to the jungle. We got fun and games. We got anything you want
    Addicting and killing people on pain
    Meds for profit
    Cocaine import agency
    Afghan opium war profits, big Pharma
    Yes my friend, profit !!! $$$$$
    Just business as usual

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