Our client was 4-1/2 months into her first pregnancy when she was admitted to the hospital in labor and her first child was stillborn. The stillbirth was devastating to the parents. After the stillbirth, our client held her baby and stayed with him until released the next morning. Her sorrow was so deep that she developed pains in her chest which she described as her heart being broken. The parents arranged to have their son buried at Greenwood Cemetery. They brought in clothing for their son, a blanket, teddy bear and prayer card to be placed in the casket. The mortuary told them they would wash and dress their baby before placing him in the casket. The parents were at the grave site awaiting the burial ceremony when our client asked to view her baby one last time. Thereafter it was discovered that there was no baby in the casket. A bucket containing a placenta was all that was found in the casket. Our client was so distraught she passed out at the grave site.
Later, a body was presented by the mortuary as the parents’ baby. DNA testing confirmed that the body was their baby and a month later a proper burial was given to their baby.
While awaiting DNA verification our client feared they may never find her baby. She became very depressed, remaining at home in the dark. She could not speak to anyone about the events. She eventually obtained counseling with her husband. Our client was diagnosed with severe depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome for which he had to be medicated. There were points where she could not go on with therapy and points at which the marriage was in danger of dissolving.
The parents believed that both the hospital and the mortuary were negligent – the hospital for failing to release their son to the mortuary driver and the mortuary for attempting to bury the placenta instead of their son. The hospital settled with the parents. The mortuary refused to settle.
Stennett & Casino took the case to trial. The jury found the mortuary responsible and valued the parents’ emotional distress damages at $600,000.
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