Funeral Home Accused of Swapping Remains
An Indiana funeral home is facing a lawsuit from its former director, who claims he was forced to resign after refusing to deliberately misrepresent the identity of three sets of remains.
In the lawsuit, David Eckert claims that three cremated bodies that were intended to go to the Indiana University School of Medicine were lost, and he was instructed by the owner of Alpha Funeral Service to send back random ashes instead.
The original cadavers had been donated for educational purposes, and the ashes were to be either given back to the donor families or buried after the funeral home completed the cremation and returned them to the University.
The director says that when he told the owner the correct ashes were missing, he was told, “Get this handled and taken care of,” which he took “as an order to gather three separate containers of random remains, and to misrepresent or fake the identities of these remains.”
Eckert refused, followed by his resignation. He also claimed that there had been other times that the home had ”misrepresented the identities of remains.”
The funeral home has denounced the allegations as lies, calling the lawsuit “frivolous, unreasonable, groundless.”
Switching remains is a pretty obvious ethical violation, and a legal one as well. “Any entity that deals with a dead body, a funeral home, cemetery or crematory has a duty to treat the body with respect,” says Henry E. Gare, founder of the Funeral Home Abuse Lawyers Network.
Nevertheless, a simple Google search turns up horror stories of misplaced bodies, remains that have been swapped for others, cremation errors and other cases where a funeral home has failed to respect the wishes of a bereaved family, intentionally or not.
Fortunately, the law protects families from careless or ethically challenged facilities. ”Every state has a government agency that regulates funeral homes. A complaint should be made as soon as possible to the agency,” Gare says. ”In addition, the relatives of the deceased are entitled to make a legal claim for the tortious interference with a dead body. A civil lawsuit may be filed against the funeral home for their outrageous conduct.”
Of course, it’s difficult to know the true extent of errors that occur because, outside of an obvious spectacle at an open-casket funeral, in many cases the family might never know that their loved one has been lost, mutilated, swapped or otherwise violated.
“If a family member suspects that the funeral home has mistakenly or intentionally switched a body or body parts, they need to inspect the body before it is buried or cremated. Unusual scars or unusual smells are signs the body has been interfered with,” says Gare. ”Unfortunately sometimes the only way the funeral home or cemetery is caught is when an honest employee reports the illegal activity.”