When a loved one passes away, their wishes for what their family should do with their body can be communicated through a will. This usually entails whether they wish to be buried or cremated, but it can also extend to organ donation. However, what if their wishes regarding organ donation were only communicated orally and not in a written will? Are their wishes still valid?
The Lions Eye Bank v. Perry, 56 S.W.3d 872 (Tex. App. — Houston [14th Dist.] 2001) case helps to answer these questions.
Facts & Procedural History
The decedent was running one night when he became the victim of a fatal robbery. At the hospital, his father signed a form that refused all organ and tissue donation, including eyes and corneal tissue, based on the previously expressed desires of the decedent
At the funeral, the family discovered the decedent’s entire eyes were gone. As it turned out, a medical examiner allowed an eye bank to remove his corneal tissue before the autopsy despite his family refusing donation. The family sued the eye bank for negligence and mental anguish.
Texas Law on Negligence
To recover for negligence in Texas, a plaintiff must establish three elements:
- The defendant owed them a legal duty of care.
- The defendant breached their duty.
- Damages were proximately caused by the breach.
In this case, the family alleged the eye bank negligently removed their deceased relative’s entire eyes without their consent. This asserted improper whole eye removal breached the general duty to exercise reasonable care in handling corpses.
However, the court held that while negligence occurred, only certain relationships and duties support emotional distress damages. As the family lacked any contract with the eye bank, no special duty existed allowing mental anguish recovery.
Although the eye bank may have been negligent per se in violating transplantation laws, negligence alone does not permit arbitrary mental anguish awards. Specific duties tied to the relationship must be breached under Texas law to recover emotional damages.
Texas Law on Mental Anguish Damages
In Texas, no general duty exists to avoid negligently inflicting mental anguish. Damages are limited to:
- Breaches of duties arising from special relationships.
- Common law torts involving intentional or malicious conduct.
- Personal injury cases with bodily injury.
- Wrongful death and bystander actions.
Mental anguish damages are not available for ordinary negligence. Specific duties based on the relationship of the parties must be breached.
Plaintiffs must establish a specific duty and breach, not mere ordinary negligence. The state of Texas limits mental anguish damages from negligence to special contexts based on duties arising from the relationship. Courts restrict recovery to special situations tied to the relationship and duties involved. These sensitive cases require analyzing how the alleged negligence breached obligations directly impacting the suffering experienced.
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