Judges send teen’s emotional distress case back to trial court

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The Indianapolis teenager who saw his deceased mother’s remains being dragged out of their apartment on a mattress because she was extremely obese will have his claim for damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress against the coroner and city heard by the trial court.

In May 2009, then-13-year-old D.J. lived with his mother, Teresa Smith, and father, David Johnson Sr., in an apartment. Due to her weight, Smith was bedridden. D.J. called 911 after Johnson found Smith unresponsive. Police arrived and declared her dead. D.J. left the apartment at that time, but he later watched men drag Smith’s body out on the mattress, covered in a sheet, because the mortuary employees who were contracted by the coroner’s office mistakenly believed they didn’t have equipment that could transport her to the coroner’s office. A dirty carpet was tossed over her body on the back of the truck.

After contacting the coroner’s office and receiving instructions, the deputy coroner on the scene instructed Smith’s body be transported by a tow truck. Chief Deputy Coroner Alfarena Ballew, after being contacted by the deputy coroner about how to handle the transportation, did not look into whether Digger Mortuary Services could transport the body. She later discovered Digger had the equipment to do so.

D.J. filed a complaint in 2010, seeking damages for negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress over the incident. The coroner’s office and city of Indianapolis sought summary judgment, which the trial court granted. The judge ruled the governmental actors were entitled to the law enforcement immunity pursuant to the Indiana Tort Claims Act.

The Court of Appeals reversed in part, finding the coroner’s office’s conduct in following its own rules does not fall within the definition of enforcement for purpose of immunity under the Act. By transporting Smith’s body to the office, the deputy coroner on scene was not compelling enforcement of a law against another person, but just following the law to enable a more detailed investigation, wrote Judge Patricia Riley.

The judges found that summary judgment was appropriate for the city and coroner’s office on D.J.’s claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress, but they found a genuine issue of fact regarding his claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. The question remains whether the coroner’s office’s conduct is so outrageous that it satisfies the reckless element of the tort.

“The Coroner’s Office conduct may have been reckless, disrespectful, and offensive but reasonable persons may differ on whether this conduct reaches the level of extreme and outrageous necessary to satisfy the tort,” she wrote.



  • Is civility & common sense dead in Marion County?
    One wonders why the cornoner not rent a dead animal truck to haul the decedent? The question of anumus seems to be a fact question in both theories. Who trained the police and/or coroner to disregard basic courtesy. If the courts offer no relief, then the issue should be submitted to the voters. Were funeral home standards met in this case?

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  1. Especially I would like to see all the republican voting patriotic good ole boys to stop and understand that the wars they have been volunteering for all along (especially the past decade at least) have not been for God & Jesus etc no far from it unless you think George Washington's face on the US dollar is god (and we know many do). When I saw the movie about Chris Kyle, I thought wow how many Hoosiers are just like this guy, out there taking orders to do the nasty on the designated bad guys, sometimes bleeding and dying, sometimes just serving and coming home to defend a system that really just views them as reliable cannon fodder. Maybe if the Christians of the red states would stop volunteering for the imperial legions and begin collecting welfare instead of working their butts off, there would be a change in attitude from the haughty professorial overlords that tell us when democracy is allowed and when it isn't. To come home from guarding the borders of the sandbox just to hear if they want the government to protect this country's borders then they are racists and bigots. Well maybe the professorial overlords should gird their own loins for war and fight their own battles in the sandbox. We can see what kind of system this really is from lawsuits like this and we can understand who it really serves. NOT US.... I mean what are all you Hoosiers waving the flag for, the right of the president to start wars of aggression to benefit the Saudis, the right of gay marriage, the right for illegal immigrants to invade our country, and the right of the ACLU to sue over displays of Baby Jesus? The right of the 1 percenters to get richer, the right of zombie banks to use taxpayer money to stay out of bankruptcy? The right of Congress to start a pissing match that could end in WWIII in Ukraine? None of that crud benefits us. We should be like the Amish. You don't have to go far from this farcical lawsuit to find the wise ones, they're in the buggies in the streets not far away....

  2. Moreover, we all know that the well heeled ACLU has a litigation strategy of outspending their adversaries. And, with the help of the legal system well trained in secularism, on top of the genuinely and admittedly secular 1st amendment, they have the strategic high ground. Maybe Christians should begin like the Amish to withdraw their services from the state and the public and become themselves a "people who shall dwell alone" and foster their own kind and let the other individuals and money interests fight it out endlessly in court. I mean, if "the people" don't see how little the state serves their interests, putting Mammon first at nearly every turn, then maybe it is time they wake up and smell the coffee. Maybe all the displays of religiosity by American poohbahs on down the decades have been a mask of piety that concealed their own materialistic inclinations. I know a lot of patriotic Christians don't like that notion but I entertain it more and more all the time.

  3. If I were a judge (and I am not just a humble citizen) I would be inclined to make a finding that there was no real controversy and dismiss them. Do we allow a lawsuit every time someone's feelings are hurt now? It's preposterous. The 1st amendment has become a sword in the hands of those who actually want to suppress religious liberty according to their own backers' conception of how it will serve their own private interests. The state has a duty of impartiality to all citizens to spend its judicial resources wisely and flush these idiotic suits over Nativity Scenes down the toilet where they belong... however as Christians we should welcome them as they are the very sort of persecution that separates the sheep from the wolves.

  4. What about the single mothers trying to protect their children from mentally abusive grandparents who hide who they truly are behind mounds and years of medication and have mentally abused their own children to the point of one being in jail and the other was on drugs. What about trying to keep those children from being subjected to the same abuse they were as a child? I can understand in the instance about the parent losing their right and the grandparent having raised the child previously! But not all circumstances grant this being OKAY! some of us parents are trying to protect our children and yes it is our God given right to make those decisions for our children as adults!! This is not just black and white and I will fight every ounce of this to get denied

  5. Mr Smith the theory of Christian persecution in Indiana has been run by the Indiana Supreme Court and soundly rejected there is no such thing according to those who rule over us. it is a thought crime to think otherwise.