Bergman Draper Oslund Wins in Court – Mandatory Autopsy of Asbestos Victims Shut Down
Bergman Draper Oslund is dedicated to protecting the rights of asbestos victims and this month succeeded in court for those stricken with mesothelioma, and their families. The firm petitioned King County Superior Court to modify the intrusive practice of requiring autopsies in asbestos cases when the victim dies before the claim settles.
Historically, plaintiffs suing for damages over asbestos exposure were subject to a mandatory autopsy if they passed away while the lawsuit was still underway – unless they or their survivors presented a religious or ethical objection. At one time, autopsies were necessary to confirm asbestos-induced mesothelioma, but medical advancements have made this unnecessary.
Founding partner of Bergman Draper Oslund, Matthew Bergman, argued before the court that, “It is unconscionable that dying asbestos victims seeking accountability from the companies that poisoned them are forced to undergo autopsies as the price for seeking justice.”
Although the court allowed exemptions to autopsy for members of some religious groups, the practice is discriminatory. King County was violating equal treatment under the law for those without a theistic defense to autopsy who nonetheless objected to it in principle. With this court victory, it puts an end to needless autopsies that can rob victims of dignity in their passing.
The petition was argued at the end of April in Washington’s King County Superior Court and cited three points:
- The King County autopsy regulations conflict with state law.
- The court was intruding upon the basic right of religious freedom.
- The practice forced attorneys to violate their fiduciary obligations to clients.
In its recent decision on the petition, King County found that any defendant in an asbestos personal injury claim must now establish a “good cause” for the court to approve an autopsy over the plaintiff’s objection. It reversed the standing practice that defendants can force an autopsy in every case unless the plaintiff argued an ethical or religious objection.
The ruling opens the door for individual judicial review of plaintiffs’ or survivors’ objections to an autopsy and transfers the burden of proof onto the defendant accused of the asbestos exposure to argue why it’s necessary.
The ruling also puts an end to asbestos defendants hoping to pressure plaintiffs to move forward with an autopsy if they didn’t want it yet couldn’t raise an argument against it that would satisfy the court. Knowing that asbestos exposure victims with mesothelioma can pursue justice without the indignity of a mandatory autopsy should bring peace of mind.