Peninsula Mother's Suit Over Son's Heart Tossed

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     A state appeals court has dismissed a lawsuit by a Daly City mother who says the county coroner kept her son's heart without her consent after an autopsy.
     
    The three-judge panel of the California First District Court of Appeal said Tuesday that Selina Picon never established that the San Mateo County Coroner's Office had to get her consent to keep the heart of her 23-year-old son.

    Nicholas Picon died unexpectedly at home in 2006. Officials say the coroner's office retained his heart to confirm the cause -- a previously undetected heart defect. Selina Picon didn't realize until weeks after her son was buried that the county had his heart.

    Selina Picon sued for negligence and denial of the right to control the remains of her son.

    State law allows coroners to keep tissues or body parts that are "necessary or advisable to the inquiry into the case, or for the verification of his or her findings."

    The coroner's office later returned the heart and changed its policy so families would be notified before organs were retained.

    Selina Picon was devastated by the ruling, said Ayanna Jenkins-Toney, her attorney.

    The judges said that while they sympathize with the mother, there isn't enough evidence to support the case against the county.

    "I think it's important for everybody to keep in mind Ms. Picon lost her son, and that's a tragedy," said Deputy County Counsel Glenn Levy. "At the same time, we're glad the Court of Appeal made the ruling the way it did."

    A San Mateo County Superior Court judge had decided to let the case proceed to trial. In December, the county appealed. Tuesday's ruling came before the case went to trial, after the appeals court took the unusual step of deciding to review the lower court's pretrial decision.

    Selina Picon hasn't yet decided whether to appeal to the California Supreme Court, her attorney said.