On July 1, 2015 in Columbus, Ohio, a family arrived for the viewing of a deceased relative’s body. But when onlookers peered into Nivina Cargill’s casket, they found a Cargill’s clothes dressing the wrong corpse. Apparently, the Ohio funeral company, Smoot Funeral Services working out of Edwards Funeral Home, misplaced Cargill’s body and then displayed the wrong corpse for the private viewing. Traumatized, Cargill’s sister, Pamela Merrit, explained the family decided to sue for compensatory and punitive damages exceeding $25,000 to ensure this mix up does not happen again with a different family. Specifically, the family alleges abuse of a dead body, breach of contract, unjust enrichment, gross negligence, infliction of emotional distress and fraud.
Regarding abuse of a dead body, Ohio law provides that “No person, except as authorized by law, shall treat a human corpse in a way that the person knows would outrage reasonable family sensibilities.” In State v. Condon, the Ohio Court of Appeals addressed whether this abuse of a dead body occurred when an artist took photos of corpses in a morgue for purposes of an artistic analysis of death. The court held that “disrespectful treatment of the bodies was a sufficient affront to dignity for the jury to determine that there had been abuse of a corpse.” Though Smoot’s actions in Cargill’s case differ from the artist’s decision in Condon (as Smoot misplaced a body and inattentively replaced the missing body with a different body), the disrespectful treatment remains the same. The court in Condon explains, “Every citizen is generally aware of community strictures regarding the treatment of the dead. Such strictures are part of a shared sense of humanity.” This shared understanding within humanity likely includes the disrespect Smoot Funeral Services exhibited upon misplacing a body and preparing an incorrect body for viewing.