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Missouri court rules against asbestos defendant's autopsy request

In a recent landmark ruling, a Missouri judge ruled that a company named as a defendant in an asbestos case may not reserve the right to autopsy the plaintiff in the event that he succumbs to the mesothelioma that is at the center of his case. The judge gave several reasons for denying the defendant company's autopsy motion, the most significant being that the plaintiff is not deceased, and that he will likely still be alive when his mesothelioma trial starts in the next few months.

In the case, the plaintiff has sued Reicchold Inc. and several other companies, accusing them of exposing him to asbestos and thereby causing him to develop the terminal mesothelioma that he is currently battling. In a recent motion, Reicchold asked the court to allow it to conduct a "postmortem biopsy" of the plaintiff's lung tissue. In doing so, the company was reportedly attempting to make the unfounded and inaccurate claim that it had used "safe asbestos" and was therefore not responsible for the plaintiff's illness.

The judge presiding over the case denied Reicchold's motion, finding that a biopsy was, for the purposes of the court, the same as an autopsy. As such, the judge stated, the decision over whether to conduct an autopsy belonged to the plaintiff's family.

Further, the company's motion did not specify who would be named in the autopsy order. The plaintiff cannot be named, because he is not yet deceased; and his family cannot be named because their rights to the plaintiff's body do not exist until he passes away.

Finally, the judge stated that the biopsy proposed by Reicchold would serve no real purpose. It is unlikely, he wrote, that "the results of the testing of the autopsy lung tissue would be conclusive as to defendant's liability on plaintiffs' claims in this case."

Source: Courthouse News Service, "Mesothelioma Patient Beats Autopsy Demand," Joe Harris, Sept. 12, 2012

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