Mishandling of Corpses: Your Right to Sue
Published On: February 24, 2013
The death of a loved one is by far one of the saddest and toughest experiences that we will ever go through.
When a loved one passes, his or her body deserves to be treated with love, respect and dignity. They deserve to rest in peace.
We expect that a funeral home, funeral directors, creamatoria and all of their staff members are going to care for our departed loved ones with the utmost sensitivity and care.
We don’t expect them to add to our grief and emotional pain by mishandling the remains of our loved ones and causing emotional distress to those of us left behind.
What Is Emotional Distress?
Emotional distress includes suffering, anguish, fright, horror, nervousness, grief, anxiety, worry, shock, humiliation, and shame. Serious emotional distress exists if an ordinary, reasonable person would be unable to cope with it. (California Civil Jury Instruction 1620)
Your Special Relationship With The Mortuary
When a mortuary agrees to provide funeral services and burial or cremation of our loved one, a special relationship is created between that mortuary and the close relatives of the person that has passed. That special relationship creates a duty on the mortuary to perform the funeral-related “services in a dignified and respectful manner that the bereaved expect of mortuary and crematory operators.”
There was a case back in 1991 which was heard and decided by the California Supreme Court entitled Christensen vs. Superior Court of Los Angeles (click here to read the case). Basically, from 1980-1987 several mortuaries and crematoria desecrated the human remains of some 16,500 bodies entrusted to them by the bereaved families.
And what did these mortuaries and crematoria do to these bodies? These were your worst nightmares come true.
- Pulled the gold from the decedents’ teeth with pliers. This heinous act is known as “popping chops” or “making the pliers sing” throughout the industry.
- Removed and sold hearts, eyes, corneas, brains and other body parts and sold them to companies for commercial distribution.
- Cremated the bodies of numerous decedents together and placed the remains in 55 gallon oil drums from which they were distributed to the bereaved families
The court ruled that If the mortuary and crematory staff mishandle the remains of our loved ones, then they have breached their duty of
care and are liable to the close family members for the emotional distress that they create by their acts.
Mishandling of the remains of loved ones continues today
You and your family may be able to sue the mortuary, funeral director, crematorium, etc., for emotional distress should the remains of your loved one be mishandled by those to whom you have entrusted them. Examples:
- Improper embalming: Techniques that cause premature decomposition of the body, especially when the body of your loved one is going to be presented in an open-casket funeral
- Not properly refrigerating the body immediately following death but before embalming can lead to rapid decomposition
- Commingling of ashes: putting several bodies in the same crematorium during the same burn cycle, undermining the respect due your loved one
- Selling body parts
- Not disposing of the body in a manner authorized by you
- Read the National Funeral Director Association’s Code of
- Professional Conduct and Enforcement Procedures
Honoring Your Loved One’s Memory
If you believe that the remains of a deceased family member have been mishandled the please contact me for a free consultation. I’m a California Personal Injury lawyer and I’m here for you.