A FUNERAL home has been unsuccessful in its attempt to have dismissed, a claim filed by a San Juan man who sued for distress after the wrong body was brought to his mother’s funeral.
In a recent decision, Justice Robin Mohammed held that it was clear that Rasheed Baksh’s claim and statement of case ought not to be struck out.
He also held that Belgroves Funeral Home’s application to have it struck out should be dismissed.
The matter has been set for case management on July 29.
Baksh is seeking damages for mental distress as a result of a breach of contract. According to his claim, he contracted the funeral home on November 29, 2016 for funeral and burial services for his mother.
The cost of the arrangement was $17,758.13.
The funeral was to take place on December 1, 2016 and it included a viewing of the body and prayer service at their home in San Juan, after which the body would be taken to Belgroves' Orange Grove crematorium.
On December 1, when the hearse arrived at 9 am, the casket was placed for viewing. After 30 minutes of prayers and grieving over the closed casket, it was opened for the bereaved to have a final viewing of the body.
The claim said it was at this time that Baksh and the funeral home’s employees realised the wrong body had been delivered.
“The wrong body was adorned in the clothing and jewellery of the claimant’s mother. The body was also laid in the casket which the claimant specifically designed and chose for his mother. This discovery resulted in an uproar,” the judgment said.
The body was taken back and 90 minutes later, the funeral home returned with the correct one.
The funeral continued without incident. The next day, when Baksh went to settle his outstanding charges, he paid a discounted sum of $7,000.
The judgment said Baksh said he was left in an indescribable state of shock, trauma and confusion because he did not know where his mother’s body was and, at the time, was clueless about if the funeral could continue. He also claimed he got no answers from the funeral home staff.
The lawsuit alleges there was an implied term in the contract that the funeral home would provide Baksh with a proper and dignified funeral service and, as a consequence of the breach, he was robbed of a proper opportunity to celebrate the life and to honour the death of his mother.
It also alleges that the funeral home’s conduct further denied Baksh’s mother “the proper send-off which she deserved as it caused the service to become a public spectacle.”
The claim further says Baksh was left shocked, outraged and emotionally distressed and suffered humiliation, outrage and trauma since, days after, the family was bombarded with phone calls and unannounced visits from the media.
“In addition to coping with the death of his mother, the claimant continues to face grievous mental anguish and is deeply shaken and traumatised by the improper and/or undignified and/or unprofessional handling of his mother’s funeral. The claimant now suffers from lack of sleep and appetite, nightmares of the ordeal and inability to focus at his job, and is in a constant state of depression,” the judgment on the striking out application said.
In its application, Belgroves argued that Baksh entered into a contract of accord and satisfaction – which is a contract law concept by which parties to a contract can terminate their agreement – and the acceptance of the $10,758.13 discount was in consideration of Baksh not proceeding further with the matter and it would represent the total liability by the funeral home.
The funeral home argued that the accord superseded the contract for funeral services, released it from liability and, by accepting the lesser amount for the services, Baksh acted to his detriment.
In his decision not to strike out Baksh’s claim, Mohammed said it was for the court to determine if by accepting the discount it amounted to an accord indemnifying the funeral home. He said the alleged facts needed to be proved.
He also said the court was hindered from determining whether there was an accord and satisfaction between the parties since there was no evidence properly adduced before it, adding that Baksh’s statement of case disclosed some grounds for a cause of action.
Baksh was represented by attorneys Stefan Ramkissoon, Kiel Taklalsingh and Anand Rampersad while Christiane Prowell represented the funeral home.