University of Kentucky hospital files lawsuit over unclaimed body

Fayette, Pulaski Counties each say it's other's job

jhewlett@herald-leader.comJuly 8, 2011 

Robert George's body has been in the University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital's morgue for more than three months, and UK officials say they can't get anyone to claim it.

The Fayette County coroner's office has refused to take the body. So has the coroner's office in Pulaski County, where George apparently lived. Relatives who have been contacted by UK also have not stepped forward to claim George's remains.

So, the university has gone to court, asking that the Pulaski County coroner or the Fayette County coroner be ordered to take possession of George's body for disposal. The university also is asking that the appropriate county cover the costs involved.

A hearing is scheduled Friday in Fayette Circuit Court.

George, an adult, was admitted to the UK hospital March 24. He died March 27. The cause of his death was a cerebral vascular accident, according to court records.

There are no additional details about George in the court records, other than he's thought by UK officials to have been a resident of Pulaski County when he was admitted to the hospital and not to be entitled to a military burial. UK declined Thursday to provide any more information about George's background.

"It's not that the Fayette County coroner doesn't want him; it's the fact that he was a resident of Pulaski County," Fayette County Coroner Gary Ginn said. "Pulaski County is supposed to bury him as an indigent, which I understand he was."

Ginn said that if George had been from Fayette County, Ginn would have "stepped up to the plate."

"He wasn't a coroner's case. He died a natural death, from what I understand," Ginn added.

"The gentleman has been there for a long time, and he just needs to be buried," he said.

Pulaski County officials have a different take.

"Our position is, the fellow died in Fayette County, and it's the coroner's obligation up there to take care of burying the body," Pulaski County Attorney Martin Hatfield said. "It's kind of a unique situation, really."

UK has located relatives of the dead man and has tried without success to get them to claim the body, UK spokeswoman Kristi Lopez said.

"I assure you we've done everything we can to find a family member to take possession of the body," she said. "It's just a very unfortunate situation."

Ginn said that in other cases where an indigent person from another county has died in a Lexington hospital, officials from the person's home county have taken responsibility for burying the person.

"It's a very sad situation," Assistant Fayette County Attorney Jason Rothrock said. "I think it's a pretty novel issue."

Reach Jennifer Hewlett at (859) 231-3308 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3308.

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