Personal Injury Lawsuit Gets to the Heart of the Matter

By: Gerri L. Elder

A mother in Daly City, California has filed a personal injury lawsuit against San Mateo County and its coroner because her son's heart was given to a research lab after his death. She is seeking $10 million in damages and is now having the heart's DNA tested to make sure it is her son's because she thinks the heart that was returned to her may be a fake.

Selina Picon's son Nicholas died in 2006 at the age of 23. She has filed a lawsuit against San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault and the county for property damage, personal injury and punitive damages after learning that the coroner planned to give Nicholas' heart to Stanford University for medical research without notifying her family.

Instead of donating the heart, Foucrault recently gave the heart to Picon. It is stored in a bubble-wrapped jar and she has never opened it. Picon and her husband are Native American and they do not believe in disturbing their son's burial ground, therefore they say that the heart will be buried with one of them instead, according to a report by the Examiner.

The California personal injury lawsuit was prompted by questions as to whether or not the heart Picon was given is actually Nicholas' heart and the unapologetic attitude of county officials when she expressed her concerns.

Picon's personal injury lawyer says that if the heart turns out to be a fake and not the actual heart of Nicholas Picon, Selina Picon's claims of suffering and deprivation will be more clear-cut and much easier to prove in court.

Lawyers for the county say that they have no concerns about the DNA testing of the heart because they know that the heart returned to Picon was Nicholas' heart.

Picon has also claimed 14th Amendment violations in her lawsuit, but U.S. Circuit Court Judge Samuel Conti dismissed that claim. Picon's lawyer plans to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court or the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In the meantime, Picon's personal injury lawyer is seeking a jury trial for the property damage, personal injury and punitive damages claims.

Foucrault says that he has been working within the organ research law for more than 20 years and this is the first complaint of this kind. He and lawyers for the county say that they are confident that the case will be dismissed before a jury trial.

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