With recent tragic news events, we thought it would be important to start a review of some Arkansas Supreme Court decisions involving funeral homes and funeral directors. Crockett v. Turpin Funeral Home, 341 Ark. 558, 19 S.W. 3d 585 (2000) is a good starting point. It summarizes several cases involving the tort of outrage and delay of burial, turning over a body to a certain relative, and conduct at a funeral by employees of a funeral home that at best would be described as “odd.” St. Louis S. R. Co. v. White, 192 Ark. 350, 91 S.W. 2d 277 (1936) lays out a standard for cases involving the disposition of a loved one’s body. That case notes “One of the leading cases on the subject is that of Larson v. Chase, 47 Minn. 307, 50 N.W. 238, 28 Am. St. Rep. 370, which is annotated in 14th L. R. A. 85. It was there held, as is indicated by the headnotes in that case, that the right to the possession of a dead body, for the purposes of preservation and burial, belongs, in the absence of any testamentary disposition, to the surviving spouse, if one there be, and, if not, to the next of kin, and that this right is one which the law recognizes and will protect, and that for any infraction of it–such as an unlawful mutilation of the remains–an action will lie.” The Restatement of Law, Second, Torts Sec. 868 states that “One who intentionally, recklessly or negligently removes, withholds, mutilates or operates upon the body of a dead person or prevents its proper internment or cremation is subject to liability to a member of the family of the deceased who is entitled to the disposition of the body.” Interesting issues of law and ethics arise anytime there is an allegation of negligence or mistreatment or maltreatment of a loved one’s body. The most important issue is making sure a prompt and proper burial or cremation of the person’s body takes place that is in keeping with the wishes of the family.
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