New Jersey Appeals Court Denies Chrysler and Honeywell Motion to Compel Autopsy on Mesothelioma Victim in Civil Case

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Harold St. John's casket was removed from gravesite March 4 by auto giants' stay; his widow and family will finally be able to bury him after 14 days.

Levy Phillips & Konigsberg partner Moshe Maimon, lead attorney in the case

I hope no other family in New Jersey or elsewhere in the U.S. has to endure the uncertainty and anguish that the St. Johns experienced over the past two weeks.

Ending a tension-fraught, gut-wrenching two-weeks during which a widow and her family were barred by court order from burying her mesothelioma victim husband, a New Jersey appeals court today affirmed a lower court ruling and denied an attempt by Chrysler and Honeywell to force an autopsy against the widow's religious objections.

Finding that the autopsy was unlikely to uncover evidence of any significance, the Appellate Division affirmed a Middlesex County, New Jersey Superior Court decision that denied the auto giants the right to compel a post-mortem on the body of Harold St. John, who died February 28.

Moshe Maimon, Esq., the family's attorney, released the following statement: "This is a victory for the rights of mesothelioma victims. Chrysler and Honeywell put the St. John family through this nightmare when - as the Court found - an autopsy was unlikely to yield any significant evidence. We are relieved that Harry St. John can finally rest in peace."

Chrysler, Honeywell and other parts manufacturers are named in a civil lawsuit filed last year by the late St. John and his wife, Diane. Both sides in the case had already stipulated that Mr. St. John died from mesothelioma when the auto parts manufacturers made their autopsy demand.

On March 4 the family left Spotswood, New Jersey graveside services with St. John's casket poised to be lowered into the grave. Chrysler and Honeywell's stay of burial was served on the funeral director who instead returned the body to the mortuary where it has remained, according to Maimon, of Levy Phillips & Konigsberg, LLP (http://www.lpklaw.com)] in New York and New Jersey.

Private burial services have been set for St. John. St. John was 67 years old when he died. He contracted the deadly cancer from exposure to asbestos at his father's Jersey City auto repair shop, according to the lawsuit. St. John had worked full- and part-time at Connie's Auto Repair, in Jersey City, which was started by his grandfather in 1900 and was the oldest auto repair shop in New Jersey, according to Maimon.

Middlesex County Superior Court Judge Phillip Lewis Paley had previously denied the autopsy request, noting that the auto giants' motion to compel an autopsy in the civil case was a case of first impression in New Jersey, stating that 'civility will not permit us to desecrate the body of a deceased for reasons unrelated to those set forth in the (New Jersey) autopsy statute.' According to Maimon, no New Jersey court had ever been asked to compel an autopsy in more than two decades of asbestos litigation.

After Judge Paley originally denied the motion by Chrysler and Honeywell, the auto parts giants then obtained the stay of burial from the Appellate Division. Other remaining defendants in the St. John lawsuit include Carlisle Companies, Inc., Bosch Braking System, Maremont Corp., Standard Motor Products, and National Gasket.

In granting the stay on March 4, the Appellate Division remanded the case back to Judge Paley for further hearings. Even though Chrysler and Honeywell had already obtained pleural tissue from the site of St. John's mesothelioma they claimed they needed an autopsy to analyze additional bodily tissue including samples from Mr. St. John's lungs.

After three days of testimony Judge Paley ruled that the auto parts manufacturers again failed to show any significant evidentiary value of additional tissue to be sought, ruling that such samples would merely be cumulative and that the family's rights dominate.

After the remand, the Appellate Division had ordered both sides to submit additional briefing. Both sides filed them by the Monday, March 16th deadline and the issue was finally decided today. The Court found that Chrysler and Honeywell failed to establish that a limited autopsy would yield results that are evidentially significant in terms of the pending trial.

"The St. John family will now have its day in Court against the companies responsible for causing Mr. St. John's mesothelioma death," Maimon said. "I hope no other family in New Jersey or elsewhere in the U.S. has to endure the uncertainty and anguish that the St. Johns experienced over the past two weeks."

Case Caption: HAROLD R. ST. JOHN and FLORENCE DIANE ST. JOHN, Plaintiffs, vs AFFINIA GROUP, INCORPORATED, Defendants

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY LAW DIVISION: MIDDLESEX COUNTY DOCKET NO. MID-L-5110-08 AS

The March 18, 2009 decision by the New Jersey Appellate Court is posted on the Web site for Levy Phillips & Konigsberg, LLP at: (http://www.lpklaw.com)

Levy Phillips & Konigsberg Contact Information:
Moshe Maimon, Esq.    
(212) 605-6260

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