Calif. — A New York couple who accused the San Mateo County coroner of negligence for letting an ambulance company dissect their son’s brain may not pursue a lawsuit, a judge tentatively ruled Wednesday.
Under the ruling, the family can amend the complaint and try again.
The tentative dismissal, however, suggests that the coroner acted properly in 2008 in complying with a subpoena to release brain tissue from the couple’s son, Steven Wolkoff, 30, to an ambulance company after the man died in an auto accident on Highway 1.
The American Medical Response ambulance company wanted to analyze the brain to defend itself in a separate, wrongful-death lawsuit filed by the man’s parents. In that suit, now settled, Jerald and Sandy Wolkoff accused paramedics of hastening their son’s death through a procedure meant to help him breathe.
In 2010, the Wolkoffs learned that Coroner Robert Foucrault had allowed American Medical Response to remove a portion of their son’s brain from his office and slice it into multiple pieces.
Observant Jews, the Wolkoffs said their faith requires them to bury their son whole, and that they were unaware that the ambulance company’s subpoena would involve removal and dissection of Steven Wolkoff’s brain.
The Wolkoffs then sued the coroner’s office and Foucrault.
David Levy, the deputy county counsel representing the coroner, said complying with subpoenas that let a third party dissect tissue is “very routine.”