LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- Amid a list of complaints, problems and changes in leadership at St. Stephen's Cemetery in recent weeks, a group of Louisville residents this week filed a class-action lawsuit against former operators of cemetery, the WHAS 11 News i-Team has learned.
The families claim the cemetery and its were negligent in their care of the property resulting in lost bodies, records and headstones.
The lawsuit primarily names the St. Stephen's Cemetery Association along with its former President Bruce Zimmerman, former Vice-President Herb Zimmerman, former Association Directors W.M. Bostic, Jr. and James Nichols.
"Defendants charged Plaintiffs and members of the proposed Class fees for cemetery and funeral services, and gained the trust of Plaintiffs, and then engaged in grossly negligent behavior, including losing records related to the location of bodies, burying bodies in improper locations, failing to follow Kentucky cemetery laws for the proper interment of bodies or cremated remains, and failing to provide headstones and other burial services, in violation of the Kentucky Consumer Protection Act," the suit claims.
There are 4 named plaintiffs, but the lawsuit opens the availability for countless other families to join subclasses, including anyone whose loved ones were buried or interred at St. Stephen's from 1987 until now, but their remains can not be located.
Other subclasses include anyone whose loved ones were improperly interred or their resting place was not properly maintained as well as anyone who did not receive a headstone they purchased.
"I'm scared I'll never find what I'm looking for," Crystal Ray previously told WHAS 11 in her search to find her uncle's and grandparents' headstones, "I literally have walked every inch of this cemetery and cannot find nothing."
Ray was not alone. Several families reached out to WHAS 11 News complaining of similar problems.
The lawsuit claims the association, through its agents and employees "negligently and/or recklessly vandalized, destroyed, ran over with their vehicles, and distributed the final resting place of Plaintiffs' loved ones by acts of commission and/or omission".
According to the lawsuit, the cemetery association recorded receipts of $416,256 on its 2014 tax returns and listed total assests at $809,853.
The named defendants are no longer in the positions mentioned in the lawsuit. The caretaker of 29 years was also previously fired. Jack Koppel, who was named president of the board in March, told WHAS 11 News he and four other board members planned to resign. Koppel said some of the board members received death threats when they took over the cemetery and were concerned about their safety.
“I don’t see any way of fixing this mess,” Koppel said at the time, comparing the problems at St. Stephens to some of the issues that were unveiled at Eastern Cemetery years ago.
The families in the lawsuit accuse St. Stephen's Cemetery Association of violating the Kentucky Consumer Protection Act, negligence and unjustly being enriched by overcharging for burial and funeral services that were not performed or performed negligently.
Lawyers for the families are seeking unspecified damages from a jury trial. They also want "full accounting" of the final resting place of all people buried at St. Stephen's.
Information for attorneys representing the defendants was not immediately available.
This story will be updated.
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