Judge orders exhumation in product-liability lawsuit

Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 10:00pm

A judge in Nashville's U.S. District Court this week ordered the body of a man who passed away in 2006 dug up to determine his cause of death.

Magistrate Judge John S. Bryant agreed with motions by the defendants in a wrongful-death lawsuit to disinter the remains of Mitchell Lee Brewer. Wife Carolyn Brewer found him dead at his Wayne County home on November 13, 2006, with the cord to a medical alert device around his neck.

She sued American Medical Alert Corp., a firm based in Oceanside, N.Y. that does business as "VoiceCare," stating in her legal complaint: "The VoiceCare Personal Response System is unreasonably dangerous to consumers because the lanyard used to hang this device around a user's neck is made of woven nylon cord with a breaking strength in excess of the body weight of most users."

Bryant reversed his own ruling from last September refusing to allow the exhumation after the device-maker's attorneys presented new — and at times grisly — evidence about the likely current condition of a corpse embalmed and interred under modern conditions for three years.

The judge concluded there is reason to believe that "disinterment and autopsy will reveal facts sufficient to definitively ascertain Mr. Brewer’s cause of death."

Bryant's memorandum opinion, no read for the squeamish, is available at this link.

Representing Carolyn Brewer are Rebecca Cothran Blair and John A. Day of Day & Blair P.C., along with Phillip H. Miller and Andrea Elaine Phelan of Phillip Miller & Associates in East Nashville.

Richard D. Moore and Timothy A. Drown of Nashville's Levine, Orr & Geracioti are counsel to American Medical Alert, while Wendy Lynn Longmire of Ortale, Kelley, Herbert & Crawford represents Secure Wireless Inc., a manufacturer also named as a defendant.

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