Washington Supreme Court Rules Than Man Can Sue Over Use of Brother’s Body for Intubation Training

The Supreme Court of Washington has concluded that a sibling has standing to bring a lawsuit for tortious interference with a deceased body. The suit arose out of the now infamous case where Bellingham firefighters used the body of Bradley Ginn Sr. to practice intubation skills.

On July 31, 2018 Ginn’s body was left at a Bellingham fire station where it was to be picked up and delivered to a funeral home. Personnel used his body to practice endotracheal intubation skills without obtaining consent from next of kin.

The incident prompted claims from Ginn’s family members totaling $15.5 Million. Ginn’s widow, Jai, ended up filing suit which was settled for $175,000. His son, Bradley Ginn Jr., and daughter, Aurieona Ginn, did not sue, but their claims were settled for $75,000 each.

The final remaining claim was brought by Ginn’s brother, Robert Fox. That claim led to a lawsuit brought in US District Court for the Western District of Washington alleging federal and state claims bringing us to the current ruling. The District Court submitted a question about Fox’s state law claim to the Supreme Court of Washington through a process known as submitting a certified question.

As explained by the Washington Supreme Court:

  • In this case,  Mr. Robert Fox alleges that he experienced severe emotional distress when he learned that the city of Bellingham Fire Department placed medical tubes inside his deceased brother as part of a training exercise without receiving consent from the family.
  • The city of Bellingham asks the court to dismiss Mr. Fox’s claim, asserting that Mr. Fox, as the brother of the deceased, who is not the custodian of his brother’s remains under RCW 68.50.160, is an improper party to bring this suit. 
  • Whether someone such as Mr. Fox has standing to bring such a suit is an issue of first impression for this court. 
  • The City asserts that standing to bring such a suit is limited to those charged with the care of their relatives’ remains under RCW 68.50.160, while Mr. Fox asks the court to permit close relatives to bring suit as foreseeable plaintiffs.
  • Over 100 years ago, this court recognized the purpose behind this action was to compensate those who suffer from the emotional distress arising from the mistreatment of their loved ones’ remains. 
  • We follow in their reasoning today and hold that standing for this action is meant to address that harm. 
  • Accordingly, we hold that Mr. Fox has standing to bring an action for interference with his brother’s body.

Here is a copy of the full decision, which more fully explains the court’s reasoning.

The case will now return to US District Court.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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