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Summary Judgment for a Family-owned Funeral Home

Marshall Dennehey attorneys successfully defended a family-owned funeral home in New Jersey. The plaintiff, a 46-year-old woman whose father was tragically killed, called the funeral home per her father’s express last wishes to have an open-casket funeral service there. However, the plaintiff did not have much money and asked the funeral director to contact her estranged uncle to see if he would pay for his brother’s funeral. Although the uncle told the funeral home that he would contact the plaintiff directly to discuss the matter, the plaintiff’s cousins subsequently visited the funeral home and agreed to pay for the funeral. Three days later, after the decedent’s body had been retrieved and embalmed by the funeral home, the plaintiff called the funeral home, convinced that her uncle had taken control of the funeral arrangements. She demanded her father’s remains be returned to the morgue. The plaintiff sued the funeral home for negligence and consumer fraud, alleging that she never agreed to go forward with the arrangements, that the funeral home fraudulently obtained her father’s body without her permission, and that they desecrated the body by embalming it. Discovery revealed that there was deep-rooted family discord between the plaintiff and her uncle. We successfully argued that the plaintiff’s failure to retain a liability expert was fatal to her negligence claim as there was no evidence to prove how the funeral home’s conduct deviated from an industry standard.

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