Hospital lost baby’s remains, Florida couple claims in lawsuit

A Florida couple is suing the hospital where their 3-day-old son died, after his body went missing from the hospital morgue.

It is not a first-of-a-kind lawsuit. There have been other similar suits filed across the country. In one case, new ground may be broken regarding negligence on the part of hospitals.

Kathryn and Travis Wilson, of Gibsonton, FL say the hospital was negligent in its handling of the baby’s body and the event has caused them physical and mental suffering, loss of enjoyment for life and wages. The baby’s remains were never located.

Jacob Wesley Wilson was born at St. Joseph’s Hospital North in Tampa on Feb. 25 and died three days later. The hospital hired a transporter to take the baby’s body to Orlando Regional Medical Center for an autopsy. The body was returned to St. Joseph’s, but went missing within days.

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Kathryn Wilson had already set up a GoFundMe page in February to pay for the baby’s funeral expenses.

“The hospital informed Kathryn ‘Kaydee’ Wilson on March 5 that the body had been returned and she could proceed with making final funeral arrangements,” the complaint states. But on March 11, the hospital contacted the mother again to tell her they could not find the child’s body. “As a result of this news, the plaintiffs … suffered great trauma.”

 The lawsuit claims the hospital was negligent by failing to properly track and monitor the baby’s body, failing to provide security for it and failing to preserve the body in accordance with Florida law. 

In a statement to the Legal Examiner, Lisa Razier, Baycare Health System’s regional communications manager, did not answer specific questions about how the body might have gone missing, but said the hospital “deeply regretted” that it occurred.

“Since first learning that Jacob Wilson’s remains were missing, St. Joseph’s Hospital has investigated all avenues and fully cooperated in all search efforts in the hope that they could be found,” Razier said. The hospital is part of the Baycare Health System.  “Our heartfelt sympathy goes out to the Wilsons for the loss of their child.  We also deeply regret not being able to account for the remains. St. Joseph’s leadership and all personnel in our morgues are committed that this unforeseen situation will not happen again.”

Neither Kathryn Wilson nor her lawyer, Doug Burnetti, returned messages and phone calls for comment.

The suit claims the couple suffered physical and mental pain and suffering, physical and psychological injuries, disability, disfigurement, mental anguish, loss of capacity for enjoyment of life, medical, nursing or psychological care and treatment, loss of ability to earn money and aggravation of a pre-existing condition.

The suit also claims reckless infliction of emotional distress.

The complaint calls the hospital’s conduct “outrageous and goes beyond all bounds of decency and is regarded as odious and utterly intolerable in a civilized community.”

There have been similar instances elsewhere

Numerous lawsuits have been filed throughout the country for similar situations, including one filed in 2019, by Tiffany Griffin and her partner, Chad Greaves, who lost their baby at only 18 weeks. Bryn Mawr Hospital, in Pennsylvania, sent the woman’s placenta to a crematorium, but the actual remains were discovered 17 days later in the hospital “having been misplaced like a set of keys or item of clothing,” their lawsuit states. A hospital spokesperson said at the time that the facility had “conducted an extensive review and assessment of how this error happened, and we have implemented corrective steps to ensure it does not recur,” but she did not elaborate on the conclusions of the review or what changes were made.

Attorney Amber Falkenbach, who represents the couple, said a ruling in this case could change the way negligence is handled in such situations.

“We don’t really know what happened which is why we filed the suit,’’ she said. “The hospital ended up finding the baby’s body, but we don’t know where the mix-up occurred.”

The couple is demanding a jury trial and seeking more than $50,000 in damages.

Because the baby had several genetic issues, the couple knew it might not survive, so they did not request an autopsy. The remains were supposed to be released for cremation. 

“Tiffany and her boyfriend picked up cremains and about a week or so later they get a call from the hospital saying they still had the baby’s body,” Falkenbach said. “They have been told that the cremains were Tiffany’s placenta. They were saying there was some kind of mix-up.”

 The remains were found in the pathology lab, but there was no reason they should have been there, since no autopsy was requested, she said.

“We filed multiple counts in this, including negligent infliction of emotional distress,” Falkenbach said. “There was a time period the hospital knew about it and didn’t expose it immediately to the family. The hospital found out and contacted the funeral home and tried to get the funeral home to relay the news.” 

According to the suit, “On Oct. 17, 2018, the Bryn Mawr Hospital requested Donahue Funeral Home pick up Baby Bailey’s body from the hospital and requested that they alert Tiffany and Chad that Baby Bailey’s body was ‘found’ at the funeral home.” The body had been at the hospital for 17 days. When the funeral home refused to take responsibility, the hospital waited another day to contact the couple.

In addition, Griffin lost her job because of her mental state following the episode, the suit says.

Falkenbach said there could be some new areas of law decided.

“Negligent infliction of emotional distress has been an evolving claim throughout the years,” she said. “The hard and fast rule is if you did not observe the conduct you could not make a case. But the law has been expanded.”

In Toney vs. Chester County Hospital, the court, 14 years ago, carved out an exception to the impact rule, meaning there is no longer a requirement that the misdeed be observed.

Another suit was filed in 2013 against Seton Medical Center in California by Rina Arriaza and her husband, Julio Arriaza, after their full-term stillborn baby’s body was misplaced and later discovered in a commercial laundry room about to be dropped into a washing machine, according to The Mercury News.And a couple whose son was stillborn in 2000 sued Yale-New Haven Hospital after it lost the baby’s body, according to The New York Times. Kimberly Zilinskas and Leonard Liscio said the hospital never accounted for the loss and they charged “gross negligence and failure of accountability in the baby’s delivery.” In that case, the baby’s body went missing before an autopsy could be performed.