Heath Ledger Heath A Ledger Heathcliff Andrew Ledger death overdose suicide Above the Law blog.jpgWe wish we knew how to quit… finding legal angles to every story under the sun. One such story is the recent, tragic death of Heath Ledger, the celebrated young actor.
We’ve noted the news in passing. Now we offer more substantive, law-related discussion (beyond fleeting references to NYU law students who went from their seminars about Jesus to join the crowd of gawkers assembled outside Ledger’s apartment).
1. Rights to remains. Sometimes this can become an issue, as it did in the case of Anna Nicole Smith. Earlier this week, the Ohio Supreme Court heard a case about a law providing that body parts removed during an autopsy are classified as medical waste (which usually results in the incineration, rather than burial with the body).
It fortunately appears this won’t be an issue in Ledger’s case. Although additional blood and tissue testing still needs to be done, his family will be taking custody of his body, according to the NYT’s City Room blog.
2. Pending projects. Heath Ledger’s sudden passing raises issues with respect to projects he was involved with. From the Hollywood Reporter:

Of particular importance to Hollywood will be the future of Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, which had very recently begun shooting. After dealing with the shock of losing Ledger to unfortunate circumstances, the film’s producers and lawyers will have to consult with their production lawyers and the insurance firm that indemnified the film to decide whether to recast, restage and/or rewrite the film to work around Ledger’s absence, or whether Ledger’s death presents an irresolvable barrier to completion of the film.

More analysis, including discussion of insurance recovery issues, over here.
3. Funeral protestors. Exact funeral plans for Heath Ledger are not yet known. But when it does happen, it could get ugly. A tipster raises a legal question:

Check out this story [about how members of the antigay Westboro Baptist Church plan to protest at Heath Ledger's funeral, because of his work in "Brokeback Mountain"].

Here’s my question. These [SOBs] are saying horrible, offensive, disgusting things. When does the fighting words doctrine come into play, and does the fighting words doctrine protect me if I punch out one of these bastards? Because I would really like to.

Feel free to opine in the comments.
Update: More about that Jesus seminar, from the WSJ Law Blog.
Heath Ledger’s Death Leaves Big Legal Question [THR, ESQ. / Hollywood Reporter]
Anti-Gay Church to Protest Ledger Funeral [ABC News]
What Are They Teaching at NYU Law These Days? [Traditional Notions]
Where Were You When? [Concurring Opinions]
The Passion of the Christ: The Trial of Jesus [NYU School of Law]


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