The law recognizes that death is sacred and that it is not to be treated lightly. Society reserves death as the most severe punishment for its worst criminal law offenders and it recognizes that neglect in the context of death is particularly egregious.
Funeral home negligence does happen and you can sue when a mortuary mishandles a corpse.
What Is Mortuary Negligence?
A mortuary or funeral home has a duty to care for bodies entrusted to the business. If -- intentionally or accidentally -- something happens to a corpse, and the business was negligent, you can sue.
A mortuary can be intentionally negligent by selling organs or burying bodies on top of each other to make more money on less space. Or a funeral home can accidentally ship the wrong body to the wrong family or accidentally prepare the wrong body for a viewing. All of these things have happened and resulted in lawsuits.
How Do I Prove Negligence?
To prove the funeral home was negligent in its care of a corpse, you will have to show four elements - duty, breach, causation, and harm (also known as damages). Specifically, you will show the funeral home owed you a duty of care with respect to treatment of the corpse, that it breached that duty thereby causing you injury that is compensable.
What Kind of Damages Are Available?
Torts law recognizes that in the context of death, a mistake can be very shocking indeed. So, say you receive a coffin from Connecticut meant to contain your cousin's corpse but instead you find some strange guy in there, this might cause you a severe emotional shock that warrants monetary damages. If the funeral home deliberately did this, you might even seek punitive damages, added money that just punishes the act.
Most commonly in negligence cases, plaintiffs recover for actual past expenses, reasonably foreseeable future costs associated with the harm, and similar losses. But neglect of a dead body is definitely a basis for claiming emotional distress.
Consult With Counsel
Every case differs and no attorney can anticipate what facts might impact your lawsuit. The best thing to do if you have been injured by the mishandling of a body by a mortuary, is to speak to an attorney. Many lawyers will even consult with you and assess your case at no cost.