March 18, 2009 – New Jersey Appellate Division upholds an earlier decision denying Chrysler and Honeywell’s motion to compel an autopsy on the body of LK’s client Harold St. John, who died of mesothelioma on February 28, 2010, and whose casket was removed from his gravesite four days later. His family will finally be able to bury him after fourteen days of dismay and despair.
New Jersey Court Stops Attempt to Force Autopsy on Mesothelioma Victim
New Jersey Appellate Division upholds an earlier decision denying Chrysler and Honeywell’s motion to compel an autopsy on the body of LK’s client Harold St. John, who died of mesothelioma on February 28, 2010, and whose casket was removed from his gravesite four days later. His family will finally be able to bury him after fourteen days of dismay and despair.
TRENTON, New Jersey, March 18, 2009 – Ending a tension-fraught, gut-wrenching two weeks during which a widow and her family were barred by a court order from burying her husband, who died of mesothelioma, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey affirmed today a lower court’s ruling1 that denied an attempt by Chrysler and Honeywell to force an autopsy on the victim’s body, against the widow’s religious objections.
Finding that an autopsy was unlikely to yield evidence of any significance, the Appellate Division affirmed a decision by New Jersey’s Middlesex County Superior Court, which denied the auto giants the right to compel a post-mortem on the body of Harold St. John, who died on February 28, 2009.
Mesothelioma lawyer Moshe Maimon of Levy Konigsberg LLP who represented the St. John family, released the following statement: “This is a victory for the rights of mesothelioma victims. Chrysler and Honeywell put the St. John family through this nightmare when, as the Court found, an autopsy was unlikely to yield any significant evidence. We are relieved that Harry St. John can finally rest in peace.”
Mr. St. John contracted the deadly cancer from asbestos exposure at his father’s Jersey City auto repair shop, according to the lawsuit. St. John had worked full and part-time at Connie’s Auto Repair in Jersey City, which was started by his grandfather in 1900 and was the oldest auto repair shop in New Jersey, according to Moshe Maimon.
Chrysler, Honeywell and other auto parts manufacturers are named in a civil lawsuit filed last year by the late St. John and his wife, Diane. Other remaining defendants in the St. John lawsuit include Carlisle Companies, Inc., Bosch Braking System, Maremont Corp., Standard Motor Products, and National Gasket.
Both sides in the case had already stipulated that Mr. St. John died from mesothelioma when the auto parts manufacturers made their autopsy demand.
Middlesex County Superior Court Judge Phillip Lewis Paley had previously denied the autopsy request, noting that the auto giants’ motion to compel an autopsy in the civil case was a case of first impression in New Jersey, stating that “civility will not permit us to desecrate the body of a deceased for reasons unrelated to those set forth in the [New Jersey] autopsy statute.” According to Maimon, no New Jersey court had ever been asked to compel an autopsy in more than two decades of asbestos litigation.
After Judge Paley originally denied Chrysler and Honeywell’s motion, the auto parts giants then obtained the stay of burial from the Appellate Division on March 4, 2009. In granting the stay, the Appellate Division remanded the case back to Judge Paley for further hearings. Even though Chrysler and Honeywell had already obtained pleural tissue from the site of St. John’s mesothelioma they claimed they needed an autopsy to analyze additional bodily tissue including from Mr. St. John’s lungs.
On March 4, 2009, the family left Spotswood, New Jersey, graveside services with St. John’s casket poised to be lowered into the grave when Chrysler and Honeywell’s stay of burial was served on the funeral director, who had no choice, but to return the body to the mortuary, where it has remained, according to attorney Maimon.
After three days of testimony Judge Paley ruled that the auto parts manufacturers again failed to show any significant evidentiary value of additional tissue to be sought, ruling that such samples would merely be cumulative and that the family’s rights dominate.
After the remand, the Appellate Division had ordered both sides to submit additional briefing. Both sides filed them by the Monday, March 16th, deadline and the issue was finally decided today. The Court found that Chrysler and Honeywell failed to establish that “a limited autopsy would yield results that are evidentially significant in terms of the pending trial.”
Private burial services have been set for St. John, who was 67 years old when he died.
“The St. John family will now have its day in Court against the companies responsible for causing Mr. St. John’s death from mesothelioma,” attorney Maimon said, “I hope no other family in New Jersey or elsewhere in the United States has to endure the uncertainty and anguish that the St. Johns experienced over the past two weeks.”
For over a quarter of a century, mesothelioma lawyers at Levy Konigsberg LLP have been among the pioneers of asbestos litigation in America. The firm’s attorneys have been recognized as nationwide leaders in representing the rights of mesothelioma victims and their families. Their clients have received some of the largest mesothelioma compensation verdicts in the country.
For more information about this or other mesothelioma lawsuits, please contact Levy Konigsberg LLP at 212-605-6200 or 1-800-MESO-LAW (1-800-637-6529), 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Under the law of most states, pain and suffering from mesothelioma may be compensated through the award of money damages, usually obtained with the help of experienced mesothelioma attorneys. In some states other types of damages may also be recovered.
Asbestos litigation affords mesothelioma victims the opportunity to receive financial compensation and hold accountable the companies that caused their asbestos exposure.
- Preserve your rights to bring a legal action against the responsible parties within the limited time frame allowed by law, known as statute of limitations;
- Obtain maximum compensation in your case by being able to:
- Preserve evidence and establish facts of the asbestos exposure while the claimant is still alive and able to provide information;
- File and resolve a lawsuit against the responsible parties before they file for bankruptcy or, if they already have, to obtain compensation before their bankruptcy trust funds run out of money;
- Expedite your case, as courts tend to give higher priority to mesothelioma lawsuits where the claimant is still alive.
1 See attached a scanned copy of the court’s decision.