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Friday, February 5, 2021

Court: UK hospital's mishandling of corpse after suspicious death violated human rights convention

St. James's Hospital is among those managed by the Leeds group
(image by CommsLTHT 2020 CC BY-SA 4.0).

From the eastern shore of the pond comes an unusual spin on the tort of mishandling a corpse.

The usual mishandling case invokes the longstanding common law exception to the rule against recovery in negligence for emotional distress in the absence of physical injury to person or property.  There was more at stake in this case, as The Guardian explained:

The family of a woman whom they suspect was killed has won a lawsuit against a health trust that allowed her body to decompose to the point that experts were unable to rule out third-party involvement in the death ....

The court ruled that the Leeds, England, hospital violated Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights, on the right to respect for private and family life.

The case is Brennan v. Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, per High Court Judge Andrew Saffman.  I cannot locate the opinion online.  Besides The Guardian, there is more coverage at the Yorkshire Evening Post and Wharfedale Observer.  Hat tip to Professor Steve Hedley's Private Law Theory.  See also Professor Eugene Volokh's compelling 2019 missive on "the tort of loss of sepulcher."

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