Día de Los Muertos and Mortuary Negligence

November 3, 2016

By Albro L. Lundy III

Reflections on Resting in Peace

This week many countries and cultures celebrated All Souls’ Day also known as Día de Los Muertos in the Latin culture. In our office, Diane created an All Souls’ Day display on her desk with funeral programs and mass cards to honor her friends who have died this past year. She included marigolds (the traditional flower in Mexico for the Day of the Dead) and items with special meanings to make a lovely shrine. As I stopped to admire it, I realized that I had been friends with most of the people she was honoring. And it gave me pause to reflect on life and death. I had just exchanged condolences with another attorney I have never met but who is opposing me on a case. He indicated he had a death in the family and apologized for his delay in responding to me. I responded that it was times like these that made us realize what was most important in life. He immediately agreed and we, two adversaries, shared a moment beyond the case at hand.

Rest in peace. That most common phrase is truly meant for both the spirit that has passed into afterlife as well as those of us who remain in these mortal coils. Death is part of life although in this modern world we try to hide that fact. Gone are the days when the kitchen table or the living room couch served as the resting place for the body of a deceased loved one while the family gathered for their final goodbye or in the Irish tradition, a wake.   Nowadays the body is whisked away by “professionals” and we are left to trust that they are going to handle our loved ones with as much respect as we would. But I am always left wondering if that really is true. You see, I have handled many mortuary and crematory negligence cases and I have seen true horror stories (too graphic to describe here) of how they treat your loved one’s remains.

Unfortunately the bottom line for some of these organizations that provide cut-rate crematory services or sometimes even high-end funeral services is how much money they can make and they cut corners. Their economic welfare triumphs over your emotional well-being.

A powerful but not well-known legal tool I have used is a case decided by the California Supreme Court that makes an exception (the only real exception in contract cases) that emotional distress damages can be recovered for a mortuary’s breach of their contract and failure to respect and care for the remains of your loved one.

There is enough pain when losing loved ones without it being compounded by the people you entrust for their peaceful repose.   If you have any suspicions there has been mishandling of your loved one’s remains, you should definitely investigate. The sacred duty of caring for your loved ones after their death should remain inviolate.