Procedural Posture

Procedural Posture

May 19, 2021

Plaintiffs filed a petition for a writ of mandate from the Superior Court of Los Angeles County (California), asserting that the superior court erred in limiting the plaintiffs’ class to those persons who contracted for mortuary services with defendants and the individuals entitled to control the disposition of the decedents’ remains at the time of their deaths.

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Overview

Plaintiffs filed suit, alleging that defendant mortuaries, funeral homes, and crematories mishandled human remains. The trial court defined the plaintiff class to those persons who contracted for mortuary services and the individuals entitled to control the disposition of the remains at the time of the decedents’ death. Plaintiffs applied for a writ of mandate. The court issued the writ, finding that the trial court improperly restricted the standing of potential plaintiffs. Specifically, the court held that on plaintiffs’ claims of negligent mishandling of human remains, the plaintiff class should be defined to include those individuals closely related to the decedent as defined by leading state case law on negligent infliction of emotional distress, plus grandchildren, and that standing for this tort was unlimited to whether a particular plaintiff alleged presence at the scene of the mishandling. Regarding plaintiffs’ claims of intentional mishandling of human remains, the court defined the class to include any family member, including those omitted under the case law on negligent infliction of emotional distress, as well as the decedents’ close friends.

Outcome

The court granted the petition for writ of mandate, defining the plaintiff class in their claims against defendant mortuaries, funeral homes, and crematoriums. Individuals closely related to the decedents had standing to sue for negligent handling of human remains; family members and close friends of decedents had standing to sue for intentional mishandling of human remains.

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