Coon v. Med. Ctr., Inc., S16G0695

CourtSupreme Court of Georgia
Citation797 S.E.2d 828,300 Ga. 722
Docket NumberS16G0695
Decision Date06 March 2017

300 Ga. 722
797 S.E.2d 828



Supreme Court of Georgia.

Decided: March 6, 2017

Archie Irwin Grubb, II, Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles, P.C., 218 Commerce Street, P.O. Box 4160, Montgomery, Alabama 36103-4160, F. Houser Pugh, P.O. Box 2807, Columbus, Georgia 31902-2807, for Appellant.

W. Scott Henwood, Hall Booth Smith, P.C., 191 Peachtree Street, N.E., Suite 2900, Atlanta, Georgia 30303, Paul Douglas Ivey, Jr., Hall Booth Smith, P.C., PO Box 2707, 233 12th Street, Suite 500, Columbus, Georgia 31901, Mark W. Wortham, Hall Booth Smith, P.C., 1037 Front Avenue, Columbus, Georgia 31902, Lauren King Dimitri, Hall Booth Smith, P.C., 233 12th Street, Suite 500, P.O. Box 2707, Columbus, Georgia 31902, for Appellee.

Robert Alan Luskin, Goodman, McGuffey, Lindsey & Johnson, LLP, 2100 Tower Place, 3340 Peachtree Road, N.E., Atlanta, Georgia 30326-1084, James Theodore Hankins, III, Goodman McGuffey Lindsey & Johnson, 3340 Peachtree Road, NE, Suite 2100, Atlanta, Georgia 30326, for Amicus Appellee.

NAHMIAS, Justice.

300 Ga. 722

Amanda Rae Coon lives in Alabama but received treatment from a hospital owned by The Medical Center, Inc. in Georgia. After the hospital mishandled the remains of her stillborn baby, Coon filed this lawsuit. Among other claims, she sought to recover damages for the negligent infliction of emotional distress. The trial court ultimately entered an order granting summary judgment to the hospital. The court applied Georgia's common-law "physical impact rule" to reject Coon's negligent infliction of emotional distress claim, rather than applying case law from the Alabama courts that allows such claims based on the mishandling of human remains. Coon appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed, although the seven judges disagreed about the choice-of-law analysis. See Coon v. Medical Center, Inc. , 335 Ga.App. 278, 780 S.E.2d 118 (2015).

We granted Coon's petition for certiorari primarily to review the Court of Appeals' analysis of the choice-of-law issue. The principal opinion of that court held that Georgia law governs Coon's claims based on the public policy exception to the rule of lex loci delicti for choosing which state's law applies to a tort claim. See id. at 282-283, 780 S.E.2d 118. In dissent, Presiding Judge Barnes disagreed about the application of that exception. See id. at 288-291, 780 S.E.2d 118. We conclude that Judge McMillian's special concurrence identified the choice-of-law

300 Ga. 723

rule that actually applies in this context: where a claim in a Georgia lawsuit is governed by the common law, and the common law is also in force in the other state, as it is in Alabama, the common law as determined by Georgia's courts will control. See id. at 286-287, 780 S.E.2d 118. Because the Court of Appeals reached the right result, we affirm its judgment.

1. (a) The pertinent facts—when the evidence in the record is viewed in the light most favorable to Coon as the party opposing summary judgment—and the procedural history of the case in the trial court are recounted

797 S.E.2d 830

in the Court of Appeals principal opinion as follows:

Amanda Rae Coon lives in Opelika, Alabama. On February 8, 2011, Coon, who was 37-weeks pregnant, went for a routine prenatal examination at her obstetrician-gynecologist's office in Columbus, Georgia. During the examination, Coon learned that her unborn baby did not have a heartbeat.

The following day, Coon was admitted to a Columbus hospital owned by The Medical Center, Inc. (the "hospital"), where her labor was induced and she delivered a stillborn baby girl. After the delivery, the hospital's bereavement coordinator spoke with Coon and her father, who informed the coordinator that the remains of the baby were to be released to a funeral home in Opelika. The bereavement coordinator completed a mortuary permit and supporting documents that included the pertinent funeral home information and placed these documents with Coon's patient chart.

The stillborn baby initially remained with Coon in her hospital room, but Coon's mother later informed the bereavement coordinator that Coon was tired and asked that the baby be removed. The coordinator placed Coon's baby in a separate holding room on the same floor until someone could take the baby to the hospital morgue. In addition to Coon's baby, there was a smaller stillborn baby boy, who was less than 20 weeks in gestation, already in the holding room.

When the bereavement coordinator placed Coon's baby in the holding room with the smaller baby, the hospital floor was in the middle of the evening shift change. A nurse whose shift had just begun volunteered to transport both babies from the holding room to the morgue. Under a hospital policy put into effect two days earlier, identification tags were to be placed on the arm and leg of a stillborn baby and on the
300 Ga. 724
outside of the cadaver bag before being delivered to the morgue. The nurse filled out the three tags for both of the babies.

The nurse had not yet had an opportunity to affix the identification tags when a hospital security guard came to the floor and asked the nurse if she was ready for him to escort her to the morgue with the babies. Because the babies were not yet prepared for transport to the morgue, the security guard decided to assist the nurse with the placement of the identification tags. The security guard had never tagged a deceased baby, and his job duties did not include tagging the remains of deceased patients or preparing them for transport to the morgue.

When the security guard began assisting the nurse, they mixed up the identification tags. The nurse tagged the smaller baby with the identification tags for Coon's baby, and the security guard tagged Coon's baby with the identification tags for the smaller baby. The security guard placed a tag on the outside of the cadaver bag for Coon's baby, but chose not to "fool" with the tags on the baby's body because he did not want to remove any of the baby's clothing. The nurse repeatedly told the security guard that he needed to place identification tags on the body of Coon's baby, but he chose not to do so.

The nurse and security guard transported the stillborn babies to the morgue with the wrong identification tags and logged in the remains. Because of the incorrect identification tags, the hospital mistakenly released the wrong baby to the Opelika funeral home.

On February 12, 2011, Coon, her family members, and other mourners attended a funeral at an Opelika cemetery for a deceased stillborn baby whom they believed was Coon's. Coon and her family members did not view the baby's remains before or during the funeral service after the funeral director advised against it, given the condition of the remains.1 The costs of transporting the baby from the hospital to the funeral home were paid by Coon's husband through the military, and Coon's aunts
797 S.E.2d 831
paid for the funeral service and donated the burial plot.
300 Ga. 725
On February 23, 2011, the hospital discovered that it had released the wrong baby to the Opelika funeral home. The hospital contacted the director of the Opelika funeral home, informed him of the mistake, and requested contact information for Coon's family. The funeral director advised the hospital to contact Coon's father rather than Coon herself because "mentally, she [would] just not [be] able to take it" if she learned of the mistaken identification.

Later that day, the hospital's chief executive officer contacted Coon by telephone and informed her that the hospital had released the wrong baby for burial. The following day, the baby who had been mistakenly released to the funeral home was exhumed from the Opelika cemetery. The funeral home director then traveled to Columbus to deliver the exhumed baby to a different funeral home and to retrieve Coon's baby from the hospital.

After the exhumed baby's remains were handed over to the representative of another funeral home, the Opelika funeral director retrieved a cadaver bag from the hospital morgue that had an identification tag for Coon's baby on the outside of it. Yet, when the director returned to his funeral home in Opelika, he discovered that the cadaver bag contained nothing but a blanket, and he had to return again to the hospital morgue to obtain Coon's baby, whom hospital employees had left in a holding room in the morgue. In violation of hospital policy, no documentation was made in the morgue log book showing when Coon's baby or the exhumed baby were returned to the morgue or to show when the switch occurred and who was involved.

Once the funeral director obtained the proper remains from the hospital, Coon's baby was buried at the Opelika cemetery. The hospital paid the costs associated with the exhumation of the misidentified baby and the subsequent burial of the correct remains. Coon did not attend the second burial because she "could not handle having to go through that all over again."

In March 2011, Coon filed the present lawsuit against the hospital, seeking damages for the emotional distress she suffered as [a] result of the mishandling of her stillborn child's

To continue reading

Request your trial
45 cases
  • McConnell v. Dep't of Labor, A16A0655
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • 11 Mayo 2018
    ...the impact rule applies specifically to claims for negligent infliction of emotional distress. See Coon v. Medical Center, Inc. , 300 Ga. 722, 734 (4), 797 S.E.2d 828 (2017) ; Bruscato v. O’Brien , 307 Ga. App. 452, 457 (1), 705 S.E.2d 275 (2010), aff’d, 289 Ga. 739, 715 S.E.2d 120 (2011) ;......
  • Mayorga v. Benton
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • 1 Julio 2022
    ...the right to recover for negligently caused emotional distress must be limited.(Citation and punctuation omitted.) Coon v. Med. Center , 300 Ga. 722, 734 (4), 797 S.E.2d 828 (2017).The impact rule has no application in three circumstances. In cases where mere negligence[11 ] is not relied o......
  • In re Equifax, Inc.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Northern District of Georgia
    • 28 Enero 2019
    ...2003) (internal quotations omitted). The Georgia Supreme Court has recently reaffirmed this exception. See Coon v. The Med. Ctr., Inc. , 300 Ga. 722, 729, 797 S.E.2d 828 (2017) ("In the absence of a statute, however, at least with respect to a state where the common law is in force, a Georg......
  • Mayorga v. Benton
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • 1 Julio 2022
    ...the right to recover for negligently caused emotional distress must be limited. (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Coon v. Med. Center, 300 Ga. 722, 734 (4) (797 S.E.2d 828) (2017). The impact rule has no application in three circumstances. cases where mere negligence[11] is not relied on,......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
    • United States
    • Notre Dame Law Review Vol. 98 No. 1, November 2022
    • 1 Noviembre 2022
    ...statutes, though Georgia may regard this deference to sister states as a matter of comity rather than duty. See Coon v. Med. Ctr., Inc., 797 S.E.2d 828, 833-34 (Ga. 2017); Lee v. Lott, 177 S.E. 92, 94-95 (Ga. Ct. App. (150) See Aaron-Andrew P. Bruhl, Hierarchy and Heterogeneity: How to Read......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT