What Is Funeral Home Negligence?
Funeral homes are businesses, just like any other, and as such, sometimes they will make mistakes. Billing errors or minor slip-ups with time are common, but sometimes errors will be far more egregious. When these types of mistakes happen with someone’s visitation or funeral, they may rise to the level of negligence, which is actionable under law. If you have had a loved one pass away and been subjected to negligence in handling their remains, you may have a case for the harm and mental anguish you have suffered.
Is My Situation Bad Enough?
Sometimes, a grieving family will refrain from acting against the funeral home because they think what they have suffered does not rise to the level of negligence – that they are simply being ‘thin-skinned’ or unreasonable. Negligence does have a legal definition; it occurs when someone owes a duty to exercise reasonable care, and they breach that duty. Funeral homes and other businesses have a duty to exercise reasonable care toward their patrons or customers, which means that they must do everything that a reasonable person would do to make their business (and the experience with their business) safe. If they do not exercise reasonable care, they may be on the proverbial hook.
Examples of “unreasonable” behavior by funeral homes can include:
- Preparing the wrong body for burial;
- Burying someone in the wrong plot;
- Misplacing or destroying cremated remains;
- Improper embalming of the body;
- Dropping or otherwise injuring a body during transportation; and
- Any other event that may shock a reasonable person.
Sadly, it is sometimes possible that a funeral home or their personnel may act in a way that is not negligent, but intentionally reckless or inappropriate. Examples of this may include theft of personal property from the deceased, such as rings or other jewelry, and failing to identify cremains before returning them to family members (that is, giving the wrong person’s cremains to the family). These events are even more worthy of civil action than those done in negligence.
Be Aware Of The “Impact” Rule
If you have been harmed by the negligent actions of a funeral home or mortuary, it is important to keep in mind that while it is quite possible to prove that the duty to exercise reasonable care was breached, other claims besides standard negligence may be more difficult to prove. For example, many injured and grieving families may allege negligent infliction of emotional distress or a general claim for mental anguish in their case, and in Florida, you generally are not permitted to recover for mental anguish related to negligent handling of a dead body unless you can either show (1) you sustained a physical injury related to that anguish, or (2) that the funeral home’s actions were “willful and wanton misconduct.” If you cannot establish either, you may still be able to recover, but this “impact rule” will curtail your ability to recover specifically for mental anguish or pain and suffering.
It is also important to keep in mind that generally, only certain people may bring an action for funeral home negligence in Florida – generally, the deceased person’s parents, children, and spouse, as well as anyone ‘entitled’ in the deceased person’s estate (in order of succession). Anyone else is deemed – rightly or wrongly – by the law to have too remote of a relationship to the deceased person to be able to recover. However, speaking with a legal professional may shed light on ways to hold the funeral home accountable even if you are not “close” enough to bring suit.
Call A Tampa Negligence Attorney Today
Losing a loved one is among the toughest days in a person’s life, and experiencing funeral home negligence adds insult to injury. Contacting an attorney well versed in these types of cases can help shed light on the situation. The Tampa wrongful burial & cremation lawyers at the Rinaldo Law Group can sit down with you and try to help you decide how best to proceed from here. Call our office today at 813-831-9999 for a free consultation.