San Antonio Corpse Desecration Lawyers
San Antonio Corpse Desecration Lawyers
Every single human being deserves respect, care, and love, even after death. When a loved one passes away, we want them to have a beautiful funeral service that honors their life, and we want them to be laid to rest peacefully. Many families of deceased loved ones will pay thousands of dollars to ensure that this happens.
Unfortunately, people in charge of transporting and preparing bodies for burial do the exact opposite – abuse or mishandle a corpse. Corpse desecration is a very serious felony in the state of Texas that can result in years of jail time and thousands of dollars in fines as well. Not only can offenders face criminal charges, but they can face civil lawsuits from the families of the deceased as well.
If your loved one’s body has been mishandled or abused, you definitely have grounds to take legal action against the at-fault party. Not only can mishandling a corpse cause long-lasting emotional trauma to family members, but it can result in financial instability as well, due to how expensive funeral and burial services are. Below, our legal team explains everything you need to know about mishandling a human corpse: what it is, how it can happen, and what damages you can possibly recover for such a serious offense.
What Does it Mean to Mishandle a Corpse?
Mishandling a human corpse typically refers to the failure to properly store, embalm, transport, cremate, or bury a dead body especially without the knowledge of the family. Common examples of mishandling a corpse can include:
- Failure to store a dead body in a refrigerated room in order to prevent early decomposition.
- Failure to safely and appropriately transport a body. This could be done using an inappropriate or unsafe vehicle or by failing to properly secure the body during transport.
- Not following the proper procedures that prepare a dead body for a funeral, burial, and/or cremation. This could include failure to embalm or dress the body.
- Failure to ask the family for consent before handling the body in any way.
- Misplacing a corpse or transporting/preparing the wrong corpse for a burial service.
Depending on the specifics of a situation as well as specific state laws, mishandling the deceased can be a crime and a form of negligence. This means that those who mishandle corpses can face criminal charges and families of mishandled corpses can file a civil lawsuit for damages.
What is Corpse Desecration?
Corpse desecration, also known as abuse of a corpse, is treating a deceased human being in an offensive or inappropriate way. Common examples of corpse desecration can include:
- Digging up (disinterring) human remains from their burial place, especially without asking families for consent first.
- Tampering with criminal evidence after a homicide. This could include tampering with or abusing a dead body as well as changing the crime scene to make it look like an accident or a suicide.
- Concealing a dead body after it has been recently killed, dug up, or abused.
- Cemetery desecration. This could include grave robbing, damaging or disturbing graves, or even vandalizing cemeteries.
- Damaging, disrespecting, or abusing a corpse, whether that be during the embalming and burial prep process or after burial.
- Transporting a human corpse outside state lines, especially without consent from the family.
- Buying, selling, or trafficking a dead body.
- Misplacing body parts of a deceased person.
- Stealing money or items from a deceased person.
Mishandling a corpse and desecrating a corpse are similar and interchangeable terms, but the main difference between the two is that corpse desecration is a form of criminal mischief under Texas law. This means that the offenders are intentionally damaging, disturbing, tampering with, or vandalizing a human corpse or a grave site. Meanwhile, mishandling a corpse typically involves the failure to act safely, respectfully, or appropriately with human remains. Both offenses are punishable under Texas law, and devastating to family members of the deceased.
Possible Liable Parties for Mishandling or Desecrating a Corpse
Anyone who mishandles or intentionally abuses a corpse can be found guilty under criminal law and held liable in a civil lawsuit. Possible liable parties could include:
- A mortician or other funeral home employee.
- Cemetery owners and/or employees.
- Hospitals, doctors, or nurses.
- The person responsible for transporting a body from a hospital to a morgue or from a funeral home to a burial site.
- Any person who damages, abuses, or disrespects a dead body or a grave site.
The most common types of corpse desecration cases involve funeral homes and employees as defendants. However, it’s important to emphasize that funeral homes are not the only types of defendants that can mishandle corpses. Hospitals and medical professionals can mishandle corpses as well, usually in the process of transferring the bodies to funeral homes.
Believe it or not, hospital corpse desecration cases are common after stillbirths or miscarriages. Oftentimes, parents of deceased fetuses want to have a proper funeral and burial for their babies, so they will request that the hospital transfer the fetal remains to a local funeral home. There have been many corpse desecration lawsuits in Texas that claim that the hospitals either fail to transfer the correct (or any) fetal remains to the funeral home, or the hospital mutilates the fetal remains for the sake of pathology testing without obtaining consent from the parents first. These are tragic examples of negligence on behalf of the hospital that often result in severe emotional distress for the parents who are already grieving the loss of their child.
At Janicek Law, we are equipped to take on all types of corpse desecration cases committed by any of the aforementioned parties.
Corpse Desecration Penalties in Texas
Texas has strict laws that outlaw abuse of a corpse (Penal Code Sec. 42.08). Up until 2017, this criminal offense was considered a Class A misdemeanor punishable by 1 year in prison and a $4,000 fine. But Senate Bill 524 changed the criminal charges and penalties of this conviction. Now, anyone convicted of abuse of a corpse under the Texas criminal justice system will face a state jail felony. Penalties include 6 months to 2 years in a state jail facility as well as a $10,000 fine.
If the prosecution finds someone guilty of other offenses as well, such as stealing money, benefits, or objects from the deceased person, then they can face even harsher charges and penalties.
Real Examples of Corpse Desecration in Texas
Believe it or not, corpse desecration and mishandling happens far more often than we think it does. In the last 10 years, there have been numerous cases of abuse of a corpse in the state of Texas that have reached national headlines. Here are just a couple of the most notable cases.
- In July 2014, two owners of a Fort Worth funeral home (Rachel and Dondre Johnson, who were husband and wife) were convicted of theft and abuse of a corpse after an investigation revealed that 8 dead bodies were in various stages of decomposition. The owners of Johnson Family Mortuary had failed to properly refrigerate and/or embalm the bodies, leading to a pungent decomposition smell, which is what originally caught the attention of law enforcement. Additionally, evidence revealed that the owners were paid by families of the deceased for funeral and burial services, but instead of providing these services, the bodies were neglected.
- In a similar story out of Sherman, TX, the operator of Serenity Chapel Funeral Services, Travis Mitchell, was arrested for abuse of a corpse. In August 2015, Mitchell’s landlord reported him for falling behind on rent payments. Police decided to investigate him and his funeral parlor, and found 2 unrefrigerated corpses. Police also discovered that Mitchell has never been a licensed funeral director in the state of Texas, and therefore he had no licensed authority to embalm bodies at his parlor.
Can You Sue for Mishandling or Desecrating a Corpse in Texas?
Not only can abuse of a corpse warrant criminal charges, but it can warrant civil lawsuits as well. Criminal cases serve to punish the people who are found guilty of a crime, while civil cases serve to compensate the loved ones affected by the crime.
Mishandling or desecrating a corpse can result in significant emotional distress and financial instability for the family members involved. They are already devastated over the loss of their loved one, and knowing that the people in charge of placing their loved ones to rest intentionally abused or mishandled them instead is sickening, to say the least.
As discussed in the real life example of abuse of a corpse in July 2014, many families pay funeral home employees for expensive burial services. Failing to properly prepare a body to be buried, or failing to bury a body when the families have already paid for these services, is a form of theft. Similarly, parents of deceased babies pay for fetal remains to be handled or transported a certain way, and a hospital failing to do exactly what is requested can be considered as a form of theft as well.
If the body of your deceased loved one has been intentionally mishandled or abused by a funeral home or a hospital, for example, you deserve to obtain justice and fair compensation through a civil lawsuit.
Damages for Mishandling or Desecrating a Corpse
San Antonio personal injury attorneys at Janicek Law can help family members of mishandled corpses recover financial compensation for the following types of damages:
- Emotional distress.
- Mental health counseling costs.
- Lost wages, if the unlawful situation causes the family members to miss work due to grief and stress.
- Reimbursement of funeral and burial expenses, if the family paid for these services only for the bodies to be neglected or abused by funeral home employees.
- Funeral and burial expenses for the deceased loved one at a different funeral home.