NJ family sues for $50M after funeral homes mix up bodies
RIDGEFIELD — The relatives of a Bergen County grandmother were mourning her death when a funeral home director stopped the burial as her casket was being lowered into the ground, according to a lawsuit seeking $50 million in damages.
Kyung Ja Kim died on Nov. 10, 2021, and her family arranged a funeral three days later. But the lawsuit said her body was left back at a Ridgefield funeral home and another person was put in her casket.
Filed on Monday, the complaint said that Kummi Kim, the deceased's daughter, saw the body thought to be her mother's on the morning of the funeral. She told the funeral director, who operated both Central Funeral Home of New Jersey and Blackley Funeral Home and Cremation Services, that it did not look like her mother.
The funeral director responded "with a very clear expression of denial and dismay over the question," according to the lawsuit. It said that Kim chalked it up to the embalming process and heavy makeup.
However, the funeral director then reached out to another, unrelated woman. She sent the funeral director pictures of her deceased mother via text message. The lawsuit said that the woman in the photos was the person in the casket.
Another two hours passed before the funeral director brought this to Kummi Kim's attention, according to the complaint. In that time, there was a service for Kyung Ja Kim at the Promise Church in Leonia, the procession had made its way to a cemetery in Valhalla, New York, and the casket had begun to be lowered into the grave.
The lawsuit said that with moments to spare, the funeral director stopped the service and had the cemetery workers lift the casket back out of the grave. Kim's family was offered a $9,000 refund.
Michael Maggiano, an attorney for the Kim family, said at a news conference Tuesday morning that the mix-up was a result of the funeral homes' failures to follow best practices and have a chain of custody.
"Mrs. Kim’s wishes were that her passing be celebrated at the Promise Church in Leonia NJ a congregation in which she was an involved member," Maggiano said. "Her husband had been an elder of the congregation. Sadly the celebration did not include her presence but that of another woman."
The amount of $50 million demanded in the lawsuit comes from five "violations of the law," according to Maggiano. He told New Jersey 101.5 that any money won as a result of the lawsuit would be donated to two churches, including the Promise Church.
"Is $50,000,000.00 too much to ask for such an outrage?" Maggiano said. "Is it too little to address the intentionality of the Funeral Home in making promises it could never keep because it chose not to establish a system of identifiers for each body received and cared for?"
Central Funeral Home of New Jersey and Blackley Funeral Home did not return a request for comment Tuesday.