James Ross is a 71-year-old Seattle man who worked for 51 years as a Seattle-based brakeman and conductor for Great Northern Railway and the subsequent companies that purchased the railway company. A recent article in the SeattleTimes told the story of how two years ago, Ross was diagnosed with asbestos-related cancer, mesothelioma, and given 8 months to live. He believed the chemicals and make-up of the brake shoes at his workplace and the asbestos products he had used to remodel his home caused his illness. Although he was able to come to terms with his terminal and painful illness, he was not ready to allow his wife to suffer after his death.
Not long after filing multiple asbestos lawsuits last year against several manufacturers of asbestos products, Ross learned that in King County, where he resides, mesothelioma victims who die while involved in civil litigation must undergo an autopsy. Ross objected personally to this requirement for what he called “philosophical” reasons. He felt that forcing his wife to endure an autopsy after losing him was unfair and cruel treatment, and James Ross requested the King County judge to issue a protection order regarding the autopsy to protect his wife. Ross also pointed out that a physician made his mesothelioma diagnosis and that an autopsy shouldn’t be necessary.
It was once nearly impossible to detect mesothelioma without an autopsy, like twenty years prior to the Ross diagnosis. Fortunately, medical technology has evolved, and mesothelioma is diagnosed before a patient dies.
According to the SeattleTimes article, King County Superior Court Judge Paris Kallas issued her order on the subject on Thursday. Kallas carefully worded an order that would waive the autopsy requirement for Ross. This order did not overturn the existing autopsy requirement for mesothelioma victims involved in litigation. The order also does not forbid defense lawyers from later petitioning a judge to order Ross’ remains.
The lawyer representing James Ross tried to have the county stop performing autopsies on those mesothelioma victims who had filed suits for asbestos-related damages, but the court denied his motion. However, he and Ross are both confident that their ruling will help make other court challenges of the autopsies a little easier.
Ultimately, for Ross, the order means his remains will not automatically undergo an autopsy, sparing his wife from additional heartache and allowing her to make funeral plans without delay or more emotional trauma. James Ross’ case is scheduled for trial in March.