Funeral home remains mix-up leads to lawsuit involving Hardin Co. family


by Bryan Baker

Posted on June 20, 2012 at 11:15 PM

Updated Thursday, Jun 21 at 3:56 PM

VINE GROVE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- What happens when a family member's burial remains turn out to be someone else?

It's the bizarre case of a mix-up at a Texas funeral home, and it's led to a lawsuit involving the woman's children and siblings, one of whom lives in Hardin County.

Valerie Cohen is part of the lawsuit filed in Dallas County, Texas court last week. Cohen, her five siblings, and the two children of Sheila Sterling are suing for negligence and breach of contract. Sheila died of cancer at 55-years-old.

The lawsuit, filed on June 14, 2012, claims minutes before an open casket viewing in September, 2011, the Gonzalez Funeral Home and Crematory told the family Global Mortuary Affairs, a company which transports bodies to funeral homes, accidentally switched Sheila's body with that of a white male.

When the funeral home attempted to prepare Sheila for viewing, they found they had the wrong body in a cooler. They then allegedly presented ashes to the family given to them by a second funeral home, J.E. Keever Mortuary, but told the family they were not 100 percent sure the remains were that of Sterling.

"It's just not any closure," Cohen said. "It's no way that we'll ever know what happened to her."
Sterling said she was so upset she left the room when the Dallas-based mortuary staff explained the problem. The family gathered from out of town to see Sheila's body before it was to be cremated as per her wishes.

The funeral home apparently called the other mortuary when they realized the problem but learned Sheila had already been cremated.

"To not be able to see her face, and we all live in different places, that's why it was so important for the family, and to have that opportunity taken away from us with carelessness and not following the letter of the law that you're supposed to do, it's just unconceivable and it's unforgiveable," Cohen said.

The family is suing for mental anguish, attorney's fees, and funeral costs. They filed a complaint with the Texas Funeral Home Commission and received a letter back that a violation had been committed by the licensee who has led to action. But the letter doesn't specify which of the three companies in question would be penalized.

All three companies were reached by phone by WHAS11 but all said they wouldn't comment on the case.