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Identify and fight funeral home neglect, with advice from Personal Injury Lawyer Phil Rizzuto


Funeral home neglect can come in many forms, from the mishandling of a corpse to deceitful business practices that may result in additional fees.

Since 2005, Phil Rizzuto and the Rizzuto Law Firm have been helping Long Island families deal with issues of funeral home neglect—important work that earned Rizzuto the Top Personal Injury Lawyer of 2022 in The Long Island Choice Awards. The firm was also voted The Best Personal Injury Law Firm on Long Island that year.

“Throughout the years I have handled many funeral home neglect cases, most of them having to do with not providing the family with ashes in a timely manner, misplacing them or even the mishandling of a corpse,” Rizzuto explained.

[READ: Meet Phil Rizzuto, the Personal Injury Lawyer fighting nursing home and funeral home neglect on Long Island]

Long Island even made national headlines during the COVID-19 pandemic with cases of funeral home neglect.

“During COVID there were so many stories about how families were victimized by funeral homes taking advantage of them and negligently handling their loved ones. We started to receive a much higher volume of calls and the actions of the funeral homes were so egregious,” Rizzuto said.

“Some of our cases were reported by news outlets all over the world,” he continued. “One funeral director buried the wrong body and belittled the family when they questioned him. Another funeral home failed to claim the body from the medical examiner’s office resulting in the unclaimed body being sent to potter’s field. Another funeral home failed to confirm the identification of a body being transported from out of state and buried the wrong person. Other cases involve bodies decomposing because they were improperly prepared and so on.”

With funeral home neglect cases on the rise, Rizzuto provided us with some insight on how to spot negligence and what to do when you’re experiencing it.

Types of funeral home neglect

There are many bases for these claims, Rizzuto explained. One claim is founded in common law known as “loss of sepulcher.”

New York common-law recognizes the right of sepulcher, which gives the next of kin the absolute right to the immediate possession of a decedent’s body for preservation and burial. If any person who unlawfully interferes with that right or improperly deals with the decedent’s body—including funeral home directors—damages can be awarded to the individuals or family affected.

“New York law provides that family members of a deceased person whose sepulcher rights are interfered with are presumed to have suffered serious psychological and emotional injuries for which those responsible must pay money damages,” Rizzuto explained.

The damages for violation of the right of sepulcher “are limited to the emotional suffering, mental anguish and psychological injuries and physical consequences thereof experienced by the next of kin as a result of the interference with the right of sepulcher,” according to state law.

This can include the likes of an unauthorized autopsy, disposal of remains inadvertently, failure to notify the next of kin of the death and more.

Here are some additional instances of general negligence:

  • Mishandling of the body, including improper storage, improper embalming, dropping the body/casket
  • Stealing property from the body, including jewels, heirlooms, etc.
  • Improper cremation or mixing cremated remains with others or losing the remains
  • Abusing the body of your deceased loved one
  • Failing to confirm and notify the next of kin
  • Cremating a body without your consent
  • Burying a body without your consent
  • Failing to improperly embalm or prepare a body
  • Mishandling of the body and/or casket resulting in damage

Additionally, like any other business, funeral homes can also be guilty of deceitful business practices. This can include lying about pricing or the availability of caskets and more.

Here are some instances Rizzuto recommends looking out for:

  • Pressure from funeral directors to select certain services of merchandise
  • Charge an additional fee for filing a death certificate or medical certification
  • Charge a handling fee for paying third parties on your behalf
  • Charge a fee for handling a casket provided by the customer
  • Charge for any service or merchandise not selected by the customer
  • Charge interest on an outstanding balance unless this charge is disclosed at the time the funeral arrangements were initially made and is stated in the Itemized Statement
  • Have persons other than a licensed funeral director make funeral arrangements, prepare the body, or supervise the burial
  • Misrepresent laws and regulations relating to funeral directing

“In many instances the families that come to us have never planned a funeral and they rely on the funeral director to help them through this most difficult time,” Rizzuto said. “We are called to step in when the funeral director’s violate that trust and cause further distress on top of families already grieving due to the loss of a loved one.”

To learn more about Phil Rizzuto or The Rizzuto Law Firm, visit them online at www.rizzutolawfirm.com, call 516-622-0606 or 855-RIZZUTO (749-9886)