Jury Returns Verdict of Over $750,000 for Mix–up of Stillborn Child's Cremated Remains
CLEVELAND, OH — April 12, 2006 — Last Friday, an Ohio jury returned a verdict of over $750,000 in favor of a young couple whose stillborn son's cremated remains were mixed with those of an adult. The couple, Eddie Squire and Tonya Leach, sued the E.F. Boyd & Son Funeral Home when they discovered that the remains of their three–month premature, stillborn son weighed over one–half of a pound. Knowing that their son weighed just under a pound when born, they became suspicious of the returned remains. The funeral home had told them that the weight was so much because, among other reasons, their son was "a large boy." "I keep having these bad nightmares about my son and him telling me, Mom, that's not me in the box," Ms. Leach said.
Dr. Walter Birkby, a forensic anthropologist, analyzed the remains for the plaintiffs and testified that they contained a large amount of adult bone and teeth fragments clearly not belonging to their son. He also said that the remains were 175 times more in weight than they should have been.
Richard Callahan, a licensed funeral director with over 30 years of owning and operating funeral establishments on both the East and West Coasts added that mixing of remains to this degree was egregious, and so far below the standards of the industry as to be a "form of desecration." "I am pained to see that any funeral service provider could so completely and utterly fail a family who entrusted a deceased to them," he said.
The jury found that the funeral home had engaged in a series of careless and reckless practices and demonstrated a lack of compassion. The plaintiffs pursued negligence, intentional and negligent misrepresentation, breach of fiduciary duty, and breach of contract as causes of action.
The lead trial counsel for the plaintiffs, Clayton Kent of Brayton Purcell LLP, was pleased with the verdict. Since this was a case of first impression in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, the plaintiffs' attorneys did not know what to expect. "I am gratified that the jury realized how important it is to a grieving family that a funeral home treat their loved one with dignity and respect, and that our society will not tolerate the type of conduct displayed by the defendants in this case," Mr. Kent said. "I am happy for Tonya and Eddie. It has been a long road for the family. I hope the entire funeral industry takes notice of this verdict."
Eddie Squire and Tonya Leach now plan to hire a specialist to separate their son's remains from the mixture they were given. They will hold a memorial service even though it will be over four years after his death.
The case is captioned: Tonya Leach and Edward Squire v. E.F. Boyd & Son Funeral Home et al., Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, Ohio, #CV 04 546335. The plaintiffs were represented by Clayton Kent of Brayton Purcell LLP in Novato, California, and by Bill Novak and Colin Sammon of Novak, Robenalt & Pavlik in Cleveland, Ohio. The defendants were represented by George Zucco of Monroe & Zucco in Cleveland, Ohio.