The passing of a family member, regardless of whether it is anticipated or sudden, is often one of the most difficult situations for a family. The loss of a loved one affects everyone differently, but to properly grieve, families are often tasked with handling the arrangements following the death of their loved one. Depending on religious affiliations and preferences, families often arrange wakes, memorial services, visitations, funerals, and burials, usually with the help of a funeral home.
The job of a funeral home is to help relieve some of the stress associated with funeral planning. They prepare the body for viewing, burial, cremation, or other final care. They also help the family plan any services related to celebrating the decedent’s life and mourning their death. Because there is so much to do following the death of a loved one, such as notifying friends and extended family, managing personal belongings, and settling any estate matters, funeral homes take some of the burdens off of the children, spouses, and parents left behind.
Families trust funeral homes to manage the preparation and planning that goes into managing the next steps after the passing of a loved one, and they expect the decedent’s remains to be handled with the utmost dignity and respect. Unfortunately, funeral homes sometimes fail to meet those expectations. There have been many cases where funeral home staff have taken advantage of a grieving family or have failed in the proper handling or adequate care of a loved one, denying the family and the decedent the respect due to them.
California law allows a family to seek compensation related to funeral home negligence. If a California funeral home was negligent in caring for your loved one’s remains, you might be eligible for compensation. If this has happened to you or your family, it is important to consult a personal injury lawyer with experience in funeral home negligence.
What Constitutes Funeral Home Negligence?
If a California funeral home fails to provide adequate care for your loved one’s remains, it can result in additional stress for you and your family. This additional stress can devastate an already grieving family. Funeral home negligence can include neglectful acts, intentional harm, or the failure to provide adequate services or care.
Funeral home negligence can include the following:
The loss of a decedent’s remains.
A funeral home is tasked with preparing the decedent’s body for display and/or cremation. Regardless of whether the decedent’s family intends to bury the remains of their loved one or keep the ashes of their loved one, the funeral home is expected to know where that person’s remains are at all times. Unfortunately, there have been many instances where funeral homes have either lost or mixed up a decedent’s remains with those of another person.
Regardless of how it happens, this type of negligence can cause great stress for a family. Whether you are burying your loved one’s remains or planning to spread their ashes, those acts can bring a sense of closure, which is crucial to the family’s grieving process.
Theft of a decedent’s property.
Unscrupulous staff or third parties involved in the process have been known to steal from the remains of individuals in their care. Jewelry, such as earrings or rings, gold teeth, and even artificial limbs, have gone missing from bad actors working inside funeral homes. In some extreme cases, body parts and organs have been harvested and sold for research without permission from or the knowledge of the decedent’s family.
The improper care of a decedent’s remains.
There are several ways in which intentional or negligent acts will result in improper care of your loved one’s remains. A funeral home might fail to store the body properly, place multiple bodies into a single casket, or drop a body during transport. Employees have been known to disfigure or mutilate a body and even present the wrong body to loved ones after failing to properly identify the remains.
During postmortem body preparation, part of the funeral home’s job is to store and embalm the body for presentation at wakes, visitations, and funerals. Negligent, inexperienced, and unlicensed funeral home employees have made embalming mistakes that resulted in extensive decomposition and disfigurement. In severe cases of embalming mistakes, a funeral home might have to cremate the body, denying the family an opportunity to view a loved one’s body one last time.
Another common example of funeral home negligence is cremation errors. Cremating the wrong individual, mixing cremated remains, and providing the incorrect remains to a family are all examples of gross negligence on the part of California funeral homes. It is also not uncommon for a funeral home to try and hide other forms of negligence, as outlined above, by cremating the body without the family’s permission.
It is not uncommon for a funeral home to be involved in the burial process of your loved ones, and it is not unusual for mistakes resulting from funeral home negligence to occur during this process. Examples of cemetery mistakes include placing the remains in the incorrect plot or failing to carry out the burial according to the family’s wishes. Neglecting a gravesite, placing multiple bodies in a single grave, or moving remains after burial are other examples of cemetery negligence.
Criminal Acts in California Involving Human Remains
California’s Death Care Industry is regulated by the state’s Cemetery and Funeral Bureau. That government agency handles industry licensing and sets the rules for California funeral homes and those providing funeral services.
If you believe that a California funeral home was negligent or has committed a criminal act involving your loved one’s remains, you are entitled to file a complaint. Following an investigation by the agency, if improper conduct is revealed, the funeral home could lose its license or face other disciplinary action.
A California funeral home negligence attorney can assist you in filing such a complaint and providing the information necessary for such an investigation.
The agency will contact law enforcement if evidence of criminality exists, such as sexual abuse or mutilation. However, a family’s claim against a funeral home is a civil matter, separate from criminal charges. Filing a civil lawsuit with the help of an attorney experienced in funeral home negligence cases can help you recover expenses incurred from the funeral home’s neglect and, in some cases, compensation for your pain and suffering. When fraud, intentional harm, or gross negligence exists, you may also be eligible to receive punitive damages. IN some cases, breach of contract damages may also apply.
Contact a California Funeral Home Negligence Attorney
The loss of a loved one is difficult enough without having to grapple with the fallout from a negligent California funeral home that failed to handle the remains of your loved one with the dignity and respect they deserve.
Let one of the skilled attorneys at the Law Offices of Samer Habbas and Associates advocate for you and your family, seek the justice you deserve, and protect the memory of your loved one. Our attorneys have experience in handling California funeral home negligence cases.
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