Lawsuit filed over body mix-up

April 2, 2012 at 11:03 AM
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JOHNSTOWN, Pa., April 2 (UPI) -- The family of a deceased Pennsylvania man is suing a funeral home that mixed up his body with another, court documents state.

The family of Richard Tkacik, who died Nov. 23, filed the lawsuit against a Richland Township funeral home and Memorial Medical Center for unspecified compensation of more than $50,000 for emotional distress, depression and humiliation, The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, Penn., reported.

The mix-up was discovered the day of Tkacik's viewing. The lawsuit states that the funeral home owner, William G. Harris, argued with the family when they told him the body they were shown was not the right one.

"The [family] told Harris that the body they were viewing was not that of the decedent. [The funeral home] argued that it was the correct decedent," the lawsuit states.

The family then had to call other funeral homes and crematoriums to track down Tkacik's body, which was found to still be at the hospital.

Harris, owner of the funeral home said he has never made such a mistake before.

"In the 40 years as a licensed funeral director and 31 years of owning my own funeral home, this is the first time I have encountered this situation," he said.

Harris said he treats everyone as though they were a member of his own family, adding, "The fact, or any faults, pertaining to this case will come out in time. I will only say now that no one was wrongly buried or cremated, and the family incurred no costs. I think the good people of this community know me and the reputation of my firm."

Joe Marsaglia, an instructor and dean of faculty and students at the Pennsylvania Institute of Mortuary Science, said such incidents are rare, but when they happen, "it can be very traumatic for a family walking into a visitation room and saying, 'Who's that?'"

"It's human error. It should not happen, but it does," he said.

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