A Hampshire Superior Court jury recently awarded $150,000 to the children of Lincoln White, Sr., a Korean War veteran whose funeral was mishandled by Ryder Funeral Home after Mr. White passed away in May 2014. The state Attorney General’s office has also filed a lawsuit, alleging that 74 customers were defrauded by Ryder Funeral Home and are owed money for services not performed. The funeral home has since been shut down and taken over by Jay Czelusniak.
Following a trial before Judge Mark D. Mason, jurors found the former South Hadley funeral home and its owner, William Ryder, negligently handled the burial of Mr. White. The jury awarded $50,000 to each of Mr. White’s children. The family’s lawyer said that the damages will not undo the emotional pain his clients suffered due to the botched burial, but they at least were able to hold Mr. Ryder accountable.
In their verdict, jurors found Ryder and the funeral home liable under six allegations in the lawsuit — negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress, negligent interference with a dead body, reckless infliction of emotional distress, and reckless interference with a dead body. The jury dismissed the negligence claims against subsequent owner Mr. Czelusniak and his new business.
The defendants may be required to shell out an additional $450,000, plus attorney fees and court costs, if the judge finds they engaged in deceptive or unfair business practices. Judge Mason is scheduled to review the plaintiffs’ motion for additional damages in upcoming weeks.
The allegations are substantial. First, the siblings claim that the funeral home did not even pick up Mr. White’s ashes until two days after they were allegedly buried. Moreover, the funeral home allegedly lost their mother’s ashes, which had been preserved since her death in 2011 so that they could be combined with her husband’s ashes. When they asked Mr. Ryder about their mother’s ashes, he responded with confusion.
The funeral home reneged on a number of its promises included in the almost $6,000 funeral plan. It failed to fulfill its promise to arrange for a military salute at the urn, have the family’s pastor recite a prayer at the wake, and post obituary notices. At the wake, the family had to rely on friends to offer a prayer and perform the military honors.
After the funeral, the family learned the ashes in their father’s grave were not his. It was later discovered that their mother’s ashes were also missing from the grave. The family never found out what happened to their parents’ ashes.
Three weeks after Mr. White’s funeral, the home was shut down by state officials. An inspection revealed six bodies stored improperly and left in various states of decomposition. Officials said the ensuing investigation turned up financial irregularities. Rather than submit to a disciplinary hearing, Ryder surrendered his license in July 2014.
Ryder, 55, has been charged criminally with five counts of of improper disposition of a human body and 66 counts of larceny. Prosecutors allege that Ryder embezzled $432,000 from customers who thought they were purchasing pre-need funeral arrangements from him. Ryder allegedly deposited the funds into his own business account and used them for himself and for the business. According to state law, money prepaid for a funeral should be invested either with an insurance policy or in a trust account at a bank in the customer’s name.
Ryder’s next court appearance on the criminal charges is scheduled for later this month. He has pleaded not guilty at previous appearances.
If you have been harmed by someone else’s negligence or misconduct, you may need the assistance of a personal injury lawyer to seek compensation. At the Neumann Law Group, our Massachusetts attorneys provide trustworthy legal representation to victims all over the state. Contact us toll-free at 800-525-NEUMANN or use our online form to set up a free consultation.
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