High court rejects woman’s suit over mix up in stillborn babies’ remains

The Supreme Court of Georgia announced its decision Monday.
The Supreme Court of Georgia announced its decision Monday.

An Alabama woman whose stillborn baby’s remains got mixed up with another’s at The Midtown Medical Center – leading to her burying the wrong body and later exhuming it – has no legal claim to damages for her distress, the Georgia Supreme Court decided.

The high court upheld lower court rulings that Amanda Rae Coon of Opelika could not claim Alabama law should apply in her case on the reasoning she was home in Opelika when she learned of the mistake, and suffered her anguish there.

The justices held that Coon’s claim fell under Georgia law, which has an “impact rule” requiring the plaintiff to suffer a physical injury or financial loss to collect damages for emotional distress caused by negligence. The court decided the hospital’s conduct was not “intentional, reckless, extreme, or outrageous.”

The facts of the case were both tragic and perplexing.

According to court records, Coon was 37 weeks pregnant on Feb. 8, 2011, when a prenatal examination at her doctor’s office in Columbus revealed her baby had no heartbeat.

She delivered the stillborn child the next day during induced labor at the hospital, where Coon’s father told workers an Alabama funeral home would collect the remains.

The body was stored in a holding room with another baby stillborn after 20 weeks gestation.

A nurse volunteered to take the bodies to the hospital morgue, and a security guard offered to help. The nurse filled out ID tags to go on each baby’s arm and leg and each body bag, but the labels were mismatched, and the funeral home picked up the wrong body.

On Feb. 12, 2011, Coon and her family had a funeral for the baby at an Opelika cemetery. Coon’s husband had military benefits to cover transportation costs, and her aunts paid for the funeral and donated the plot.

Two weeks later, the hospital discovered the mistake, and the chief executive officer called Coon to tell her.

The baby the Coons buried was exhumed, and the Alabama funeral home director returned it to Columbus, where he was to collect the correct remains.

Then another mix-up occurred.

The director drove back to Opelika, only to find the cadaver bag contained nothing but a blanket. He had to drive back to Columbus to collect the decomposing body of the Coons’ baby.

The hospital paid the expenses resulting from its error, but Coon was too distressed to attend the second burial.

The Coon family sued the hospital in March 2011.

A Muscogee Superior Court judge ruled in the hospital’s favor, as did the Georgia Court of Appeals. The family then appealed to the Supreme Court of Georgia, which heard arguments last September.