COA rules botched burial does not entitle relatives to award

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The Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled that relatives of a woman whose burial went awry are not entitled to damages.

On August 16, 2007, Doris Johnson’s family had left her grave site before interment. When the casket was determined to be too large to fit in the burial vault, funeral director Donald Fredrick, along with Donald Gilmore, Robert Evans, and Michael Carnahan, attempted to force the vault closed. It was interred without being completely sealed.

On August 27, Johnson’s family — the Yorks — received an anonymous call about the problems with the burial. Family members called the Duesterberg-Fredrick funeral home, requesting that the casket and vault be exhumed.

The Yorks were not responsible for the cost of the August 30 exhumation, replacement casket, and replacement vault.

Tina Baum, Johnson’s granddaughter, and two other relatives, Summer Noland and Shawn York, were present at exhumation. All three noticed some damage to either the vault or casket, but no damage to the remains. Photographs and video taken at the exhumation were played during a family reunion and viewed by the Yorks and other relatives. For Steven and Sharon York, this was their first opportunity to view the vault, casket, and remains. They did not notice any damage to the remains.

The Yorks all contend to have suffered emotional distress as a result of this incident, but none sought any medical or other professional treatment.

On July, 17, 2008, the Yorks filed an amended complaint against Fredrick; the funeral home; Edwardsport Town Cemetery Association; Sexton Wilbert Corp., twhich delivered the vault; and those who put Johnson’s remains in the vault, alleging negligence, gross negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress, intentional infliction of emotional distress. They also alleged Fredrick and the funeral home committed a breach of fiduciary duty.

On December 29, 2008, the trial court issued an order granting the partial motion to dismiss of all the defendants as to the claims of negligent infliction of emotional distress pursuant to Indiana Trial Rule 12(B)(6). A motion for summary judgment for the remaining allegations was filed and joined by all of the Defendants.

The Yorks filed a response to this motion, and Evans and Sexton Wilbert filed a reply brief to this response and a supplement to the facts. The Yorks filed a motion to strike both filings by Evans and Sexton Wilbert, which was denied by the trial court. On July 23, 2010, the trial court issued an order granting summary judgment in favor of the defendants on all of the remaining allegations.

On appeal in Sharon S. York, et al. v. Donald Fredrick, et al., No. 42A01-1008-PL-420, the Yorks cited Indiana’s bystander rule in support of their claim for relief for negligent inflection of emotional distress. But the COA cited Groves v. Taylor, 729 N.E.2d 569 (Ind. 2000), which states that a bystander must either witness or come upon a scene soon after the death or severe injury of a loved one caused by the defendant’s negligent conduct. The family, the COA stated, was not present at the time of the interment.

Again citing Groves, the COA said that the “scene” must be essentially as it was at the time of the incident, and the claimant must not have been informed of the incident before coming upon the scene. The family had been informed of the burial problems and had voluntarily attended the exhumation.

The appellate court also affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants on the remaining claims and held the Yorks wavied their claim regarding the denial of their motion to strike.


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  1. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.

  2. I had a hospital and dcs caseworker falsify reports that my child was born with drugs in her system. I filed a complaint with the Indiana department of health....and they found that the hospital falsified drug screens in their investigation. Then I filed a complaint with human health services in Washington DC...dcs drug Testing is unregulated and is indicating false positives...they are currently being investigated by human health services. Then I located an attorney and signed contracts one month ago to sue dcs and Anderson community hospital. Once the suit is filed I am taking out a loan against the suit and paying a law firm to file a writ of mandamus challenging the courts jurisdiction to invoke chins case against me. I also forwarded evidence to a u.s. senator who contacted hhs to push an investigation faster. Once the lawsuit is filed local news stations will be running coverage on the situation. Easy day....people will be losing their jobs soon...and judge pancol...who has attempted to cover up what has happened will also be in trouble. The drug testing is a kids for cash and federal funding situation.

  3. (A)ll (C)riminals (L)ove (U)s is up to their old, "If it's honorable and pro-American, we're against it," nonsense. I'm not a big Pence fan but at least he's showing his patriotism which is something the left won't do.

  4. While if true this auto dealer should be held liable, where was the BMV in all of this? How is it that the dealer was able to get "clean" titles to these vehicles in order to sell them to unsuspecting consumers?

  5. He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good. He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance. He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation: For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent: He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.. He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless [ ] Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions. GOD BLESS THE GOVERNORS RESISTING! Count on the gutless judiciary to tie our children down and facilitate the swords being drawn across their throats. Wake Up America ...