Loss of Right of Sepulcher: How the Law Encourages Respect and Dignity for the Disposition of People’s Remains

Loss of Right of Sepulcher: How the Law Encourages Respect and Dignity for the Disposition of People’s Remains

(Warning: Contains graphic descriptions concerning people’s remains.) 

Although we assume our loved ones’ remains will be treated properly and considerately, that is not always the case.

The requirement that people’s earthly remains be treated with dignity and respect is called the Right of Sepulcher. When remains are handled improperly, the deceased’s next of kin may suffer severe emotional shock and injury. Their legal remedy is called Loss of Right of Sepulcher.

For example, after a teenage boy was killed in a car crash, the NYC Medical Examiner conducted an autopsy. His remains were sent to a funeral home and he was laid to rest.

Months after the tragic accident, students from the boy’s high school, coincidentally, took a field trip to the Medical Examiner’s office. They were horrified to see their recently deceased schoolmate’s brain displayed in a glass jar with his name on it. They told the boy’s sister. The Medical Examiner’s office never informed the boy’s family that it planned to keep or display his brain.    

Outrage from the boy’s family was met with this statement by the City:

“It was within the Medical Examiner’s discretion to perform an autopsy, and …to remove and retain bodily organs for further testing.”

The boy’s family started a lawsuit and recovered monetary damages from the City of New York for their emotional injuries.

In another case, a Bronx, NY funeral home mistakenly switched the remains of a couple’s deceased baby with those of another baby. Incredibly, the funeral home argued with the parents about the identity of the remains. The funeral home couldn’t locate the right baby’s remains in time for the funeral. Imagine the additional shock and grief the parents endured after their baby’s remains were located, days later, only to see them in an ill-fitting casket at the postponed funeral.

The devastated parents commenced legal action against the funeral home for the Loss of Right of Sepulcher and settled their claim before trial.

Painful mistakes like these are the result of negligence, and monetary justice can be obtained for the next of kin in court by an experienced personal injury lawyer. The shock and pain of learning that a loved one’s brain is on display, that a baby’s remains were misplaced in the cellar of a funeral home, or that one’s remains were disposed of contrary to their wishes deserves maximum compensation under the law.

Families have a right to take comfort knowing that their loved one’s remains are treated with dignity and respect. Has anyone interfered with your loved one’s Right of Sepulcher?

Ron Katter
Katter Law Firm
Phone: 844-WAS-HURT
Alt Phone: 212-809-4293