Over the weekend we learned that the cremated remains of three people had been stolen before they could be sent to their respective loved ones. You can read an article and see a news video from Las Vegas News 8 here that explains the situation.
From what I can gather remains from Las Vegas Cremations had been dispatched by the funeral home and transported to the local post office by an employee. When the employee arrived at the post office and before they were able to turn the remains over to the postal service, a thief snatched bags containing the remains and drove off.
Management of the cremation business is interviewed and is concerned that when the thief realizes he/she has cremated remains that the perpetrator will just discard them. The manager said, “Our main purpose is to get the cremated remains back. So we can get them to the family”
Funeral Director Daily take: When you first read this article it states that the remains were “stolen from a post office”. However, as I re-read the article and then watched the news video, it appears to me that the remains may have been stolen in the parking lot prior to being turned over to the post office for delivery.
If you are a funeral director who is concerned with liability, I think that makes a big difference. When I was in charge of operating funeral homes, the potential for losing cremated remains by whatever method always worried me. Part of being a good business person is to be aware of the risk related issues of what could happen.
Now, a manager cannot think of everything and who would expect somebody to drive up to your car, grab packages, and just take off. It doesn’t seem like it would ever happen. But, apparently it has now happened in Nevada. So, if you are a funeral director, you need to learn from this.
I did a Google search of jury awards for lost cremated remains and the search engine returned to me several awards from between 2006 and 20016 that ranged from $150,000 to $3.5 million. Juries have ruled that cremated remains have little financial value, but depending on how a case is tried, juries have also ruled that they may have a very high sentimental and emotional value to the family members.
It is my opinion that if the remains had been stolen from the Postal Service after you had successfully delivered them to the Postal Service, then, I would guess the liability would be on the United States Postal Service. It’s also my opinion, that even though a funeral home would be in a position of getting some negative publicity if this occurred, they would also be in a much better legal position as to damages.
In some areas of the country the Post Office will pick up packages from your place of business. Maybe something that we can learn here, if that is possible in your area, is to have cremated remains that are going to be sent to family members picked up by the USPS at your office. If that is possible in your area, maybe that is something you should put into best practices as part of your risk management.
In the meantime, we all somewhat sympathize with the funeral home in this case because this type of theft – in this manner – is just something you don’t think about.