Children claim funeral home didn't prepare mother's body properly

BELLEVILLE -- The two children of a deceased woman have filed suit against the funeral home that they claim failed to adequately prepare their mother's body for a funeral.

Nancy Jones and Annie Short claim their mother, Vera Little, was declared dead by a coroner after Short found her still in her bed at her home on Oct. 27. Subsequent to their mother's death, Jones and Short contacted defendant Officer Funeral Home to arrange for the embalming of their mother and her funeral, according to the complaint filed May 13 in St. Clair County Circuit Court.

Funeral Director Carl Officer signed a contract with the plaintiffs on Oct. 29 and agreed to perform the funeral services, including the embalming, dressing of the casket and cosmetizing of Little, the suit states. In exchange, the sisters agreed to pay Officer Funeral Home $3,030 for its services, the complaint says.

On Nov. 1, Carl Officer informed Jones that Little's life insurance policies would not cover the expenses and that he needed access to Little's bank account to retrieve the money necessary to perform the services, the plaintiffs claim.

On Nov. 2, Jones and Short learned that their mother's body had incurred an odor and would not be available for funeral services, according to the complaint.

On Nov. 3, the day of Little's funeral services, Carl Officer requested permission from Jones and Short to withdraw $3,000 from their mother's bank account, the suit states. The sisters agreed to the charge and also provided Carl Officer $1,200 from their own personal funds, the complaint says. However, Carl Officer refused to let the women view their deceased mother's body, they claim.

"After the service, Ms. Jones returned to Atlanta, having never been allowed the opportunity to view her mother," the suit states. "Ms. Short observed her mother after the funeral prior to burial after Mr. Officer granted her request. The decedent's remains were contained in a black bag. The bag was placed inside the casket provided by Plaintiffs. No cosmetics had been applied and her corpse was dressed in the same clothing as when discovered at her home six days earlier."

On Nov. 3, Officer Funeral Home drew a cashier's check against Little's bank account for $631.82, according to the complaint. The funeral home also submitted a vendor's funeral claim, requesting payment for cosmetizing, casketing and dressing, the complaint says.

"Defendant accepted payment from Plaintiffs under the agreement signed on October 29, 2009, for certain services, including embalmment, dressing, casketing and cosmetizing, at a time defendant had no intention and/or ability to perform such services and such services were in fact never performed," the suit states.

Because of the actions of Officer Funeral Home, Jones and Short claim they lost the opportunity to grieve their mother in a manner they deemed appropriate, lost the opportunity to present their mother in dignified repose to her loved ones and suffered embarrassment at the funeral when they were unable to provide an open casket funeral and when it became publicly known that their mother's remains were not in the casket.

Jones and Short allege violations of the Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, interference with their right to the possession and preservation of their mother's remains and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

They are seeking actual and punitive damages of more than $50,000, plus post-judgment interest, costs and other relief the court deems just.

Daniel P. Finney of St. Louis will be representing them.

St. Clair County Circuit Court case number: 10-L-240

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