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Mishandling of Corpses in Nevada: Recovering Compensation for the Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress

When a loved one passes there is an expectation that his or her body will be treated with unsurpassable dignity and respect. When a funeral home is negligent in meeting these expectations it adds tremendous grief and emotional pain to loved ones who are already experiencing so much. If staff mishandle remains they have breached their duty of care. The funeral home is then liable for the emotional distress its actions created.

Relationship With The Mortuary

When a mortuary agrees to provide funeral services and burial or cremation of a loved one, a relationship is created between that mortuary and the family of the deceased. That relationship creates an expectation that the mortuary will perform the funeral-related “services in a dignified and respectful manner that the bereaved expect of mortuary and crematory operators.” These loved ones turned victims may be able to file a negligence claim and recover compensation for emotional distress. 

Funeral Home Negligence

The mishandling of corpses can be defined by several criteria including discrepancies in the funeral home’s records when spelling names of decedents and dates of death, storing bodies for an extended period of time, storing too many bodies, and unprofessional/unsanitary conditions. Negligence also includes the commingling of ashes, improper embalming and storage, selling body parts, and unauthorized manners of body disposal. Recently, Hites Funeral Home and Crematory on West Sunset Road in Henderson has made headlines for allegedly committing many of these negligent acts.

Decedent Records

Hites was recently found to be in violation of funeral home records regulations. Many discrepancies were highlighted in the funeral home’s records regarding the spelling of the decedents’ names and dates of death of decedents. 

Holding Bodies

Nevada statute requires every dead body in the state to be buried or cremated within a reasonable time after death. On more than one occasion, Hites have had the bodies of deceased individuals stored for over a year without cremation or burial. 

Body Stacking

Body stacking happens when a funeral home has multiple bodies in one location. Hites coolers were all at or near capacity. At least three bodies were said to be stacked on one gurney and coolers were all at or near capacity as well. 

Unprofessional and Unsanitary Conditions

Although funeral homes have corpses they still need to have professional and sanity conditions. Hites failed to uphold these standards on multiple accounts. The inspector stated having experienced viewing bodily fluids that seeped onto sheets of a corpse, combustible items resting against crematory chambers, and a baby’s remains stored in a trap atop another tray. When making a follow-up visit the inspector stated she was able to view a partially uncovered body with the decedent’s face exposed from the parking lot, through an open door to the crematory.

Improper Embalming and Storage

Proper storage and preservation of corpses are especially important when the body will be presented in an open-casket funeral. Improperly refrigerating a body immediately following death and before embalming leads to the rapid decomposition of a corpse. During the most recent inspection at Hites Funeral Home and Crematory, the inspector witnessed a body being stored outside of refrigeration and warm to the touch. Adding to the violations, to remain in agreement with Nevada Law, the temperature in a body cooler cannot be above 42 degrees. Even after briefly being opened, a cooler is strictly prohibited to be above 48 degrees. The inspector noted that one cooler was left slightly ajar, with no staff tending to it. When the temperature reading in the cooler was inspected it was almost 60 degrees.

Additional Ways Mortuaries and Crematories Mishandle Corpses

Commingling of Ashes

Previously, funeral homes have been accused and/or found guilty of putting several bodies in the same crematorium during the same burn cycle.

Selling Body Parts

Unethical funeral homes sometimes remove and sell brains, corneas, eyes, hearts, and various other body parts/organs to sell them to companies for commercial distribution.

Improper Body Disposal

There are regulations relating to the disposal of human bodies. The matter of body disposal is not just disposing of the body in a manner authorized by the desires of loved ones. The matter of disposal is also influenced by public interest, including the public’s health, safety, and welfare. The most common methods of disposal are:

  • Burial of the entire body on the earth, usually within a coffin 
  • Cremation burns soft tissue and renders much of the skeleton to ash. The remains (cremains), may contain larger pieces of bone that are ground in a machine to the consistency of ash. The ashes may be stored in an urn or scattered on land or water.

Recovering Compensation for Emotional Distress

Genuine emotional distress exists if an ordinary, reasonable person would be unable to cope with it. Emotional distress includes anguish, anxiety, fright, grief, horror, humiliation, nervousness, shame, shock, suffering, and worry. 

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Las Vegas Personal Injury Lawyer Cliff Marcek

Mr. Marcek has published several legal articles, been a featured speaker on legal topics and has represent several clients pro bono during his career. In addition, Mr. Marcek was a member of the Attorney Generals Commission on Military Assistance in 2015.

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