NEW YORK – A family who found out that their son's brain was on display at the Staten Island Mortuary when his sister visited on a field trip was awarded $1 million by a jury.
The family had filed the suit against New York City and its Medical Examiner's (ME) office charging their mishandling of their son's remains and interference with their "proper disposition" had caused them severe emotional distress.
The ME's office had countered that it hadn't done anything wrong -- it had the right to do the autopsy and the right to hold on to the organ for study, and argued the lawsuit should be dismissed.
But the jury this week delivered its decision, the Staten Island Advance reported Friday.
Jesse Jerome Shipley died in a 2005 car crash. His sister Shannon was also a passenger in the car.
Just two months later she and her classmates from Port Richmond High School were on a forensic science club field trip at the Staten Island Mortuary, where they saw a brain being kept in a jar of formeldahyde. In what a judge called "a surreal coincidence," the "label on the jar indicated that the brain was that of Jesse Shipley."
There was more disturbing news to come -- one or two days later, a doctor from the city Medical Examiner's office dissected the brain to do further tests.
Asked in a deposition about the reason for the delay between the autopsy and the brain examination, Dr. Stephen de Roux of the ME's office explained, "I wait months, until I have six brains, and then it's kind of worth [the neuropathologic examiner's] while to make the trip to Staten Island to examine six brains. It doesn't make sense for him to come and do one."
The Advance reported that the city and ME's office plan to appeal the verdict.