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06/30/87 Lorenda Hearon, v. the City of Chicago Et Al.

June 30, 1987

LORENDA HEARON, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT

v.

THE CITY OF CHICAGO ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES. -- LORENDA HEARON, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,

v.

THE COUNTY OF



APPELLATE COURT OF ILLINOIS, FIRST DISTRICT, FOURTH DIVISION

COOK et al., Defendants-Appellants

510 N.E.2d 1192, 157 Ill. App. 3d 633, 110 Ill. Dec. 161 1987.IL.936

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Myron T. Gomberg, Judge, presiding.

APPELLATE Judges:

JUSTICE JIGANTI delivered the opinion of the court. JOHNSON and LINN, JJ., concur.

DECISION OF THE COURT DELIVERED BY THE HONORABLE JUDGE JIGANTI

This action arises out of the death and Disposition of the body of Kenneth Hearon, the husband of the plaintiff, Lorenda Hearon.

On May 12, 1979, Kenneth Hearon was stabbed in the chest with a knife and later found by Chicago police officers, who took him to the emergency room of St. Joseph's Hospital. He was pronounced dead upon arrival. The police officers then transported the body to the medical examiner's office, where the matter was assigned to Eupil Choi, M.D., for processing. Choi performed an autopsy upon the body which included opening the chest cavity to reveal a lacerated heart and also included conducting an examination of the cranial area by making a surgical incision in the skull. Approximately 30 days later, the body, which remained unclaimed, was transferred by the county to a cemetery for burial. Hearon was not contacted regarding either the death of her husband or the subsequent Disposition of his body.

Four months later, in October of 1979, Hearon learned of the death of her husband after a bill collector from St. Joseph's Hospital contacted her regarding the emergency room charges for services rendered to her husband the previous May. After the body had been exhumed in November, the county requested that Hearon identify the body, which apparently had decomposed by that time. Thereafter, Hearon brought this action for damages based upon the intentional infliction of emotional distress and the interference with the next of kin's right to possession and preservation of the body of the deceased. Named as defendants were the city of Chicago, the police officers, R. Wallander, J. Modelski and R. Sannicandro, who had been assigned to investigate the stabbing, the county of Cook, the Cook County medical examiner Robert Stein, Dr. Eupil Choi, St. Joseph's Hospital and the funeral home and its directors who handled the burial and the cemetery at which Hearon was buried. The hospital, the funeral home and its directors, and the cemetery are no longer part of this litigation.

Upon Hearon's motion for leave to file a fifth amended complaint, the trial court granted leave as to the defendants county of Cook and Dr. Choi. With regard to the remaining defendants, Hearon's motion was denied, giving rise to this appeal. The defendants county of Cook and Dr. Choi are before this court by way of permissive interlocutory appeal. By either route, the question is whether Hearon has stated a cause of action for the intentional infliction of emotional distress and for the interference with her right to possession and preservation of her husband's body.

To state a cause of action for the intentional infliction of emotional distress, the plaintiff must allege facts that establish that the conduct of the defendant was extreme and outrageous; that the emotional distress suffered by the plaintiff was severe; and, in cases where the plaintiff alleges that the defendant's conduct was "reckless," that the defendant's conduct was such that the defendant knew severe emotional distress would be certain or substantially certain to result. Public Finance Corp. v. Davis (1976), 66 Ill. 2d 85, 89-90, 360 N.E.2d 765.

The determination of whether the defendant's conduct can be characterized as extreme and outrageous depends upon the facts of each case. (Knierim v. Izzo (1961), 22 Ill. 2d 73, 86, 174 N.E.2d 157.) Here, Hearon seeks damages for the intentional infliction of emotional distress against the defendants, the county of Cook, the medical examiner Robert Stein, Dr. Choi, the city of Chicago and certain Chicago police officers. As to the county, Hearon essentially makes three allegations in support of her theory of emotional distress. These allegations relate to the manner in which the autopsy was conducted by Dr. Choi, the lack of notification that the plaintiff received about the death and Disposition of her husband's body and the viewing of the body after it was exhumed by the county. Essentially the same allegations are contained in the counts against the other defendants. For purposes of this appeal, analysis of the allegations against the county will be dispositive of all the counts in the complaint.

Specifically, Hearon alleges that because identification of Kenneth Hearon was known and readily accessible to Cook County employees, the Disposition of his body and the retention of his papers was in conscious disregard of, and in utter indifference to, her right to the body and papers of her husband. Hearon also alleges that the part of the autopsy conducted by Dr. Choi in which Dr. Choi made an incision in Kenneth Hearon's skull was unnecessary in light of the fact that a visual examination of the body would have been sufficient to reveal the cause of death. Accordingly, argues Hearon, the continuation of the autopsy by Dr. Choi was in conscious disregard of, and with utter indifference to, her right to the body of her husband without unnecessary mutilation. Further, Hearon alleges that without any warning to her as to what she was about to view, the employees of the medical examiner's office requested her to view the body of Kenneth Hearon and that in viewing him, she saw that his body was in a condition of mutilation and decomposition and apparently revealed an 1/8- to 1/2-inch separation between the scalp area and the rest of the face. As a direct and proximate result of the foregoing conduct, Hearon alleges that she suffered severe and extreme emotional distress.

It is evident from these allegations that the circumstances encountered by Hearon were emotionally upsetting and we acknowledge the unfortunate nature of this experience. Nevertheless, when considering Hearon's allegations in light of the factors ...


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