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Bellevue couple settles Pa. organ lawsuit for $1.2M

Associated Press • Nov 8, 2012 at 4:20 PM

The Erie Times-News reported Thursday that U.S. District Judge Sean McLaughlin unsealed the documents at the newspaper's request despite objections from UPMC Hamot, CORE and a CORE employee who were sued by Michael and Theresa Jacobs, of Bellevue, Ohio.

The Jacobses claimed the hospital, which was then Hamot Medical Center and unaffiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and Pittsburgh-based CORE were responsible for hastening the death of their 18-year-old son, Gregory, in March 2007 so his organs could be harvested. He suffered a critical head injury during a school snowboarding trip in New York and was taken to the hospital in Erie. He died after being taken off life support five days later.

Erie County District Attorney Bradley Foulk was asked to review the case for possible criminal charges, but he determined the hospital and CORE officials followed proper procedures. Foulk has since died.

The Jacobses sued, and the case was settled in August on the eve of trial. Attorneys for all parties declined to comment, saying the agreement was confidential. McLaughlin allowed the settlement to remain sealed while he considered arguments from the newspaper and the parties as to whether that was proper.

Keeping settlement details confidential would "allow the family time to heal and recover from the trauma of their son's death without having to deal with invasive media inquiries," the parties argued in a joint argument to the court.

McLaughlin made the documents public in a ruling Tuesday, saying none of the parties established "good cause" to keep the settlement sealed. The judge had previously said there was a strong presumption that court documents should remain public without a compelling reason to the contrary.

Among other things, McLaughlin noted that much of the media attention was generated by the Jacobses, including a national interview they gave to CBS when they filed the lawsuit. He also found transparency was important because the case involved organ donation, which involves important public policy considerations.

The settlement papers show the couple received $676,345 and the rest went to their attorneys, except for nearly $19,000 used to pay off a health insurance lien. The settlement refers to the payment as a "compromise of a disputed claim" and said the defendants continue to deny wrongdoing.

CORE's president and CEO, Susan Stuart, said the case was settled because it was "taking the focus away" from the agency's "important mission." Stuart also stressed that Foulk found the hospital and CORE "followed all the proper procedures in the organ donation and recovery process."

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