Monday, October 27, 2008

THE CASE OF THE DISINTEGRATING CASKET *


     William Henry, age 49, was a retired car dealership executive in the Indianapolis area.  Emotionally devastated by a diagnosis of and unsuccessful treatment for terminal liver cancer, William took his own life on March 11, 2002.

     William's family purchased a mausoleum vault from the Forest Lawn Memorial Gardens cemetery in Greenwood.  The plan was for William to be interred in a temporary vault while the construction of a permanent vault was being completed.  The family purchased a wooden casket for $3,678.00, and William's body was placed in it and then put in the temporary vault. 

     Over a year later, the permanent vault was ready.  William's family gathered at the cemetery to watch and to honor William as his body was moved to its permanent resting place.  William's adult son, father, sister and nephew were all there for the occasion.  

     The solemn ceremony soon became a disaster.  During the transfer process, the handles of the casket broke off.  As a result, the casket fell to the ground and broke into a number of pieces, exposing the contents.  William's horrified family members were able to see the stained cloth liner of the casket, a blanket covered with black mold, and portions of William's physical remains.  The odor of decomposed flesh overwhelmed the family.  

     William's family filed suit and sought recovery for their emotional trauma.  They proceeded to trial against the cemetery, criticizing it for failing to provide a temporary vault that would repel water and prevent decay of the casket.  They also complained against the cemetery for failing to ensure that the casket was structurally sound before attempting to move it, failing to use a tray to guide the casket out, and failing to cover the casket with a sheet.  Forest Lawn Memorial Gardens defended the case and denied any fault. 

     The case was tried for two days in Indianapolis.  After deliberating, the jury returned a verdict for the family in the total amount of $300,000.  William's son and nephew were each awarded $80,000, while William's father and sister were each awarded $70,000.  A judgment was entered by Judge Gerald Zore of the Marion Superior Court on August 27, 2008.  

     There is no word yet as to whether the cemetery plans to appeal.  Based upon my knowledge of the case, however, I think that an appeal is unlikely.  It is within the province of the jury to determine appropriate damages and, given the horrendous facts of this case, a verdict of $300,000 does not strike me as excessive.  Indiana courts have a long history of compensating bereaved family members where the mistreatment of a corpse has taken place.  It is possible that there could be some procedural grounds for an appeal, but that also is probably unlikely.  I know the attorneys for the family in this case, and I would be very surprised if there were any procedural irregularities.  

     I will let you know if I should learn that the case is being appealed.  


   *The basis for this account was originally published in the October, 2008 edition of The Indiana Jury Verdict Reporter.  



1 Comments:

Blogger New Alb Annie said...

I recall reading about this case in the newspaper--it's a very interesting one. I hope you'll continue to post some of the more unusual cases from time to time.

8:53 AM  

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