Betts Patterson Mines

S. Karen Bamberger and Emily Albrecht Obtain Defense Verdict

Shareholder S. Karen Bamberger and associate Emily Albrecht,recently obtained a defense verdict in a King County Superior Court jury trial in a case alleging wrongful interference with a dead body for failure to embalm a corpse properly. The case pitted “world-renowned forensic pathologist” Werner Spitz against Jake Smith, an expert from the University of Tennessee Anthropological Research Facility, also known as the “Body Farm.”

Plaintiff was a mother who claimed that the defendant funeral home had lied to her, representing that it would fully and properly embalm her thirty-four-year old son’s remains, but instead had only embalmed the face to accommodate the viewing at the funeral. Plaintiff hired Dr. Spitz to perform a second autopsy to try to determine cause of death for purposes of a related wrongful death case. The body was exhumed 17 months after the initial burial. Dr. Spitz testified that based on the 60,000 autopsies in which he had been involved, and although the body was not properly embalmed, he was still able to determine cause of death. The defense expert was able to explain to the jury the decomposition process that all bodies inevitably undergo— embalmed or not—complete with photographs showing the various stages of decomposition evident in the donated remains of individual subjects, as documented by researchers at the Body Farm. Plaintiff also alleged that at the time of reburial, she was literally walking in “globs” of her son’s remains, which she believed to have leaked out of the casket and to have been present at the cemetery around the grave site—all due, in her mind, to the body not being properly embalmed. Plaintiff claimed emotional distress damages and was even quoted in a newspaper article as stating that her son “should rest in peace, not in pieces.” The last demand prior to suit, and after two mediations, was two million dollars. After approximately a half-hour, the jury returned a unanimous verdict in favor of the defense.