A North Carolina medical examiner's error in 2008 may have opened the possibility for future lawsuits against medical examiners. The North Carolina Industrial Commission recently awarded almost $400,000 to surviving family members for damages associated with mental and emotional distress caused by a medical examiner misidentifying a corpse.
The medical examiner's identification error resulted in the grieving family being presented a stranger's body at a funeral home, while their deceased loved one's body was missing. The correct body was discovered at another funeral home, where it was scheduled for cremation.
The North Carolina Industrial Commission's Deputy Commissioner called it a "breach of duty" on part of the medical examiner.
Other individuals with different cases who have allegedly suffered as well have also filed suits.
According to the southern newspaper The State:
In the past, the attorney general's office has said the law shields the government from liability because medical examiners work for the public and have no duty to individual families.
Gheen awarded damages to three family members but denied money awards for three others. He declined to make the state pay punitive damages, saying the commission lacked legal authority.
The recent $400,000 award could allow future medical examiner lawsuits in North Carolina; yet one more means of compensation for those who suffer losses as a result of another party's neglience.