Madera family claims funeral home mishandled body

The Fresno BeeJanuary 20, 2014 

A Madera family is suing a local funeral home claiming it disfigured the body of their loved one and prepared the wrong body for viewing in front of other family and friends.

The widow and children of Wrainey C. Farmer Sr., 87, are suing Smith Manor Grace Chapel of Madera for negligence causing them to suffer severe emotional and mental distress, according to the complaint filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Jan. 13.

The family's lawyer is Mark Geragos, the Los Angeles celebrity attorney who represented convicted Modesto wife-killer Scott Peterson.

The funeral home, which has operated in Madera for 11 years, contends there was only one mix-up -- when the wrong body was displayed. Otherwise, the chapel says it helped the family carry out the funeral arrangements, including a church service and burial in Los Angeles County, and even returned the $7,500 cost of the funeral.

"Smith Manor Grace Chapel has been accommodating and sympathetic with the Farmer family during their loss of their loved one," the chapel says in a statement provided by attorney Byron Purcell of Los Angeles.

The chapel "has been and will always stand behind our families. We, as a family ourselves, are understanding of their grief and will endeavor to accommodate their concerns. Our prayers are with the Farmer family at this time."

Both parties met before the holidays to see if they could settle the case, but could not come to an agreement, attorneys for both sides said.

Wrainey Farmer died the morning of April 11, 2013, at Madera Community Hospital and his body was released to the chapel that afternoon without permission from the family, the complaint said.

The chapel contacted the family about funeral arrangements, which included the dressing, embalming and viewing of the body. The family agreed to go ahead with the plans.

When Farmer's widow, Florine, and daughter, Deloris, arrived at the funeral home on April 17 for a viewing, they were shocked to find another body in the casket dressed in Farmer's favorite suit and tie, the complaint says.

Purcell confirmed the wrong body was displayed, but the mistake was corrected before the viewing, he said.

Farmer's body was brought out that afternoon when the family returned with vans of cousins and friends for the viewing, the complaint says.

The family also claims that Farmer's body was improperly embalmed, causing him to look "grossly mutilated" and his body to be in a "distorted form."

"When you lose a loved one, you're looking for somebody to trust so that you can get closure," Geragos said. Instead of "trying to solve the situation, they made it worse and that's why we're forced to file a lawsuit."

The chapel owner, Sharlane Smith, apologized to the family and promised to oversee the remaining procedures with the body before internment at Inglewood Park Cemetery, southwest of Los Angeles.

But the family claims that the funeral home continued to mishandle the body and disregard the family's request to not have an open casket at the church services in Inglewood.

Purcell, the chapel's attorney, said the owners went above and beyond their duties to help the family.

A trial date has not been scheduled.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6495, blee@fresnobee.com or @bonhialee on Twitter.

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