Funeral home put wrong body in woman’s casket, New Jersey family says

After an open funeral at their mother’s church, Kyung Ja Kim’s children gathered around a grave to see her buried.

As the coffin was lowered into the grave, the funeral director suddenly intervened, ordering cemetery workers to lift it and put it back in the hearse.

There had been a confusion, explained the director. The funeral home had placed the body of another woman with the same last name in their mother’s casket, along with their mother’s clothes and dentures, the family said in a $50 million lawsuit filed against the funeral home Monday.

Kim’s three children and son-in-law allege in the lawsuit that New Jersey Central Funeral Home, which operates Blackley Funeral Home in Ridgefield, NJ, was negligent and reckless in putting the wrong body in their mother’s coffin in November, exacerbating their grief and emotional distress.

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Kummi Kim, one of her daughters, fainted on the spot when the coffin was pulled from the ground, said Michael Maggiano, the family’s attorney.

“Ms. Kim was a very, very religious woman,” Maggiano said. “She wanted her death celebrated at Promise Church in Leonia, New Jersey, and it didn’t happen — in the casket there was another woman who was represented by the funeral home to be a mother.”

Representatives for Blackley and Central funeral homes told The Washington Post Wednesday morning they would forward requests for comment to management, but there was no response by mid-afternoon. No information about the companies’ lawyers is listed in the court records.

When Kyung Ja Kim, 93, died at her daughter Kummi’s home in Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Kummi Kim called the funeral home in nearby Ridgefield — where 30% of the population is of Korean descent, according to the Office of the census. — hoping to hold a funeral and burial in accordance with Korean tradition, according to the lawsuit.

Funeral director Haemin Gina Chong arranged for the body to be collected and met with the family the following day to discuss how Kim would be dressed and presented for the open casket funeral.

But when the coffin arrived for the funeral two days later at Promise Church in Leonia – where Kim had long attended and requested that her funeral be held – it contained the body of Whaja Kim, another woman who was being held at the parlour. funeral but was not related to the family, according to the lawsuit.

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When Kummi Kim was lucky enough to see her mother’s body shortly before the funeral, she told Chong that the body did not appear to be her mother’s according to the costume. Chong responded with a “very clear expression of denial and dismay”, which led Kim to justify that the embalming and makeup process must have altered the appearance of the body.

“They made it up and got the family to believe, ‘It’s Mother, she looks a little different since she died,'” Maggiano said. “So the family was like, ‘Well, okay, we’re not sure it’s mum, but you’re the experts, so we’ll trust you.'”

The funeral proceeded as planned and the casket was loaded onto a hearse for delivery to a cemetery in Valhalla, New York. The family later learned that during the funeral, Chong called and texted Whaja Kim’s daughter about her mother’s “identifying characteristics.” the girl sent back several photos, the suit said.

As the motorcade made its way to the cemetery, Chong called Kummi Kim and told her that if she wasn’t sure the body belonged to her mother, they should ‘turn all the cars around’, without giving further explanation. , depending on the suit. Confused, Kim told Chong that they had to proceed with the burial.

Thirty minutes into the funeral service, Chong pulled out a photo on his phone of a body that was at the funeral home and showed it to Kim. Kim said it was her mother’s.

Without explanation, Chong ordered cemetery workers to remove the coffin from the grave “under the astonished gaze of family members,” according to the lawsuit. Chong then met the family and informed them that Whaja Kim’s body had been dressed in their mother’s clothes and then presented at the funeral and for burial.

Chong later admitted to the family that the funeral home placed their mother’s dentures under a pillow under Whaja Kim’s body, although Whaja Kim had a full set of teeth, according to the suit.

Chong arranged an urgent funeral with the correct body the following day, but it could not take place at their mother’s church because it was used for Sunday services. Several family members had already left because they couldn’t change their travel plans, the suit said.

The mistake violated the family’s contract with the funeral home and did not respect Korean funeral tradition and their mother’s wishes for a burial in her church, the family said in the lawsuit. They also said the funeral home had multiple opportunities to spot the error and instead ignored the “obvious evidence of body confusion” until the wrong body was already in their mother’s grave.

Chong told the family that the two employees who recovered Kim’s body did not affix an identification tag to her, which goes against industry best practices, Maggiano said. The funeral home offered to refund the $9,000 the family had paid in fees, but it still cashed the check afterwards, according to an amended complaint filed Wednesday.

“My mom was a long-lived and she wanted her funeral to be a celebration,” Kummi Kim said at a news conference Monday, according to NJ Advance Media. “His last wish was for everything to happen at the church, in the right way. So I feel very guilty that we couldn’t grant his last wish.

According to local reports, families in Houston; Charlotte; Waco, Texas; Columbus, Ohio; Pontiac, Michigan; Ahoskie, North Carolina; and Fresno, Calif., said in the past two years they discovered the wrong bodies in the coffins of loved ones. In November, CBS New York reported, a family sued a Long Island funeral home for $88 million after they said the funeral director ignored their suggestions that the wrong body was in their mother’s casket until after his funeral.

Maggiano said the Kim family was not looking for financial gain and would donate any money they received from the lawsuit to two churches that were important to their mother.

“They don’t want a dollar of this,” Maggiano said. “They’re doing it for their mom, and that’s what mom would have wanted.”

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