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Michigan Court tells Gipp relatives they can't "Win one for the Gipper."

As a Michigan probate litigation attorney, I have been involved in my share of strange cases (like one involving funeral home imposters stealing a body from a hospital morgue).  This one is right up there.  In October 2007, family members gave permission for the body of the famed Notre Dame football player George Gipp ("the Gipper") to be dug up for DNA testing to determine if he had unacknowledged heirs.  George GippSpecifically, Bette Bright Weeks was born 5 days after Gipp died and Gipp's family members granted permission to determine if Weeks' daughters were actually Gipp's granddaughters.

Gipp died in 1920 at age 25, from pneumonia and strep throat.  His Coach, Knute Rockne, used his death in a famous locker room speech, and the "win one for the Gipper" phrase gained widespread popularity when used by Ronald Reagan (who had played Gipp in a movie) in his presidential campaign. 

Two distant cousins of George Gipp, Karl and Ronald Gipp, filed the lawsuit hoping to win back some dignity for Gipp, they claimed, because they were apparently aghast at the way the body was dug up.  They claim it was done with a backhoe, not shovels, and the resulting carelessness was destructive and even dug up Gipp's sister (buried next to his body) by mistake.  They were especially bothered by the fact that ESPN was invited to film the whole thing -- with eight film cameras, they claim.

Their Michigan litigation attorney filed suit against the relatives who gave permission, as well as ESPN, the sports reporter who was there, the local medical examiner and others.  The lawsuit sought damages for "extreme shock, fright, humiliation and mortification." 

The Michigan court that reviewed the case dismissed it because the Gipp family members who sued were more distant than the Gipp family members who allowed the exhumation.  Accordingly, the court ruled there was no legal standing for the lawsuit.

The Gipp distant cousins appealed.  Recently, the Michigan Court of Appeals issued an order refusing to grant the appeal, effectively ending the Gipps' case.  However, the Michigan lawyer who filed the case vows to track down even closer relatives to the Gipper and try to start the case all over again. 

Family feuds do come in all shapes and sizes and emotions almost always run high.  Both sides of the Gipp family involved accused the other of acting out of greed, and claiming they in turn were motivated by noble principles of honor.  Often, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.  Managing these emotions is important in any probate litigation case or other family feud legal dispute.

Posted by:  Author and probate attorney Andrew W. Mayoras, co-author of Trial & Heirs:  Famous Fortune Fights! and co-founder and shareholder of The Center for Probate Litigation and The Center for Elder Law in metro-Detroit, Michigan, which concentrate in probate litigation, estate planning, and elder law.  You can email him at awmayoras @

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