“The mistakes just kept happening.” Alone this expression is unsettling. In the context of funeral arrangements, it assumes novel gruesomeness. On October 28, 2016, the family of deceased Madeline Yost filed a lawsuit against the now closed Bartlett-Burdett-Cox Funeral Home (B-B-C) in Kanawha County, West Virginia, alleging that the funeral home mixed up two bodies in January of this year. Peggy Bowles, Yost’s daughter, said that her mother’s dying wish was for a closed casket ceremony. In the care of B-B-C, Yost received the opposite.
The lawsuit alleges that B-B-C confused Yost’s body with another deceased woman, Margaret Fraser. Yost was displayed in an open casket to Fraser’s friends and family. To add insult(s) to injury, Yost was wearing Fraser’s clothes, and none of the surviving Frasers noticed they were grieving over the remains of a stranger. Yost was buried in Fraser’s grave later that day.
“Just the thought that she was buried in someone else’s grave, and that she had someone else’s clothes on, I didn’t anticipate it,” Bowles recalled. Yost was later exhumed and laid to final rest next to her husband.
Though its official website has been taken down, what remains of B-B-C’s business profile on Yelp assures clients that, “We believe creating meaningful ways to pay tribute to a loved one begins with compassion and is shaped by the understanding that each life is truly unique. For us, there is no greater responsibility than honoring and preserving the story of one’s life.” Perhaps a more fitting description of B-B-C’s approach to funeral directing would be “No guarantees.”
In addition to seeking damages, Bowles’ attorney, Russell Williams, said they want to make sure that no other families fall victim to this sort of mistake: “The goal is to hold these defendants accountable for what they’ve done, and to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else in the future.” Since B-B-C closed in May after years of declining business, it would appear that goal has fulfilled itself without any legal intervention.
Bowles probably shouldn’t hold her breath for damages, either. Collecting against a presumably fiscally insolvent funeral home that closed nearly six months ago will likely be impossible. While this experience may have been emotionally troubling for Bowles, there is no use in beating a dead horse, or a dead funeral home. Yost has been laid to final rest, and perhaps this case should follow suit.