A Korean family filed a $50 million lawsuit against a funeral home in New Jersey for a mix-up that nearly saw the wrong body buried in place of their mother’s casket.
The children of Kyung Ja Kim, who passed away on Nov. 10, are suing Central Funeral Home of New Jersey and Blackley Funeral Home and Cremation Services Inc. for failing to follow their own policies in ensuring the bodies were properly identified.
The Kim family gathered for the open-casket funeral at Promise Church in Leonia, New Jersey, on Nov. 13. However, when Kummi Kim viewed the casket of her mother, she immediately told Haemin Gina Chong, the funeral director, that the body in the casket did not look like her mother.
Chong then denied the mix-up and suggested that Kim “did not appreciate a different appearance after death,” leading Kim to rationalize the body’s “altered appearance” was due to the embalming process and heavy mortuary makeup, according to the lawsuit.
Half an hour later into the service when the casket had been lowered into the ground, Chong allegedly asked cemetery workers to remove it from the grave without explanation. Chong later met with the family and admitted to the grave mistake. The body was reportedly Whaja Kim, a woman 20 years younger than their mother and not related to the family.
“They made her up and led the family to believe, ‘This is Mother, she looks a little different while she’s passed,’” Michael Maggiano, the family’s attorney, told The Washington Post. “So the family thought, ‘Well, okay, we’re not sure this is Mom, but you’re the experts, so we’ll trust you.’”
The mistake caused the Kim family to suffer “great shock, emotional distress and psychological pain and hurt upon learning that the passing of their mother was not properly celebrated but that the body of a stranger was wearing the decedent’s clothing and personal effects and placed in her coffin in error,” according to the lawsuit.
The mistake failed to honor Kim’s wishes of a funeral at her home church. The 93-year-old mother was buried at the Central Funeral Home’s facility a day after the incident in a “makeshift funeral.”
“My mother lived a long life, and she wanted her funeral to be a celebration,” Kummi Kim reportedly said. “Her last wish was that everything would be at the church, the proper way. So I feel very guilty that we couldn’t give her final wish.”
The Central Funeral Home later apologized and offered the family a refund of about $9,000. However, the family says it is not enough. They are suing for loss of right to interment, negligent infliction of emotional distress, intentional infliction of emotional distress, battery and breach of contract and are asking for $50 million in compensation in a lawsuit filed on Monday.
The family said they are not interested in the money. If they win the lawsuit, they reportedly plan to donate the money to two Korean churches that their mother was active in.
“They do not want a dollar from this,” Maggiano reportedly said. “They’re doing it for their mother, and that’s what Mother would have wanted.”
Featured Image via NBC News