Family can sue over US Marine's missing heart

2014-07-16 08:20
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Philadelphia — The family of a US Marine whose body came back from Greece without his heart can pursue negligence claims against the United States, a federal judge ruled. However, the judge found that Greek officials and the Athens hospital where the autopsy was performed are immune from the family's lawsuit.

The dispute involves the August 2012 suicide of Marine Sgt Brian LaLoup, who shot himself after a party at the US embassy in Athens, where he was stationed. His heart went missing after an autopsy at an Athens hospital. His parents learned that from US military officials only after his funeral - and they still don't know where it is.

"Many people thought we wouldn't be able to get this far," family lawyer Aaron J Freiwald said on Tuesday of the partial court victory. "This family now stands on an even playing field with the US government. ... This is extremely important and gratifying."

His clients, Craig and Beverly LaLoup of Pennsylvania, can now investigate the handling of their son's body through legal discovery.

The parents also hope to learn more about their son's death. They believe their son told a colleague that he was suicidal over a breakup that night, but he was nonetheless allowed to keep drinking and gain access to a weapons closet. They are pursuing emotional distress claims because the U.S. military is generally immune from wrongful-death lawsuits, their lawyer said.

The Philadelphia Inquirer first reported Tuesday on the ruling last week from US District Judge Stewart Dalzell.

Dalzell pondered whether US military officials owe a duty of care to the parents of an adult service member. He concluded that they may.

US military officials discovered the heart was missing when they performed a second autopsy on 22 Aug, after the body arrived in Delaware. The family learned that on 17 Sept, two weeks after the funeral.

A Greek embassy spokesperson in Washington, DC, has said the hospital kept the heart for toxicology tests, but he declined to say what happened to it later.

The LaLoups have not rule out filing suit in Greece against other defendants, Freiwald said.

The US attorney's office in Philadelphia represents the US military defendants in the federal lawsuit. The office declined to comment on Tuesday because the lawsuit remains active, spokesperson Patty Hartman said.

- AP

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