We often ponder the value of ashes: to some they are worthless to others the most precious item on the planet, in previous posts we have considered their worth in monetary terms. Well in a recent case in the town of Mobile – a port city on Alabama’s Gulf Coast in US (yes, I thought the name of the town could lead to confusion too), a funeral company lost the ashes of Shelly Hood’s mother. Mrs Hood started asking for them back in 2015 and was told they would be found.
In December 2016, the boss of the company finally told Shelly that the ashes had not been located and no record existed as to where they might be. So, Mrs Hood took them to court.
The jury found in favour of Mrs Hood (juries in civil cases is very unusual in the UK). They considered that the Pine Crest Funeral Home was culpable in 4 on counts, including negligence and breach of contract.
Mrs Hood’s lawyers said: “This case is about a funeral home’s failure to respect and honour the dignity of a family member’s life,” said Knowlton.
Is this really a big deal I hear you say. Well actually yes, it is. Because of the level of the award against the funeral directors – $12,000,000 yes that’s right 12 million dollars (about £9.2m). It was $2 million in compensatory damages and $10 million was awarded in punitive damages.
Gadzooks! I hear you cry that is a lot of money. Indeed, it is. I asked Google what it was equivalent too? So, assuming the person remains the same job throughout the average working career of 40 years, including the impact of inflation, then the average American would earn $1,400,000 in their lifetime. So the money awarded is equivalent to someone working everyday for 40 years for 8 and half lifetimes.
I do wonder whether the level in the fine is because they are a very big company, but still to my mind this is too much. I know the US is much more litigious than us and perhaps there was and agreed method of calculation. Please don’t get me wrong I not here to defend the big guys. However, all this serves to do is put up prices for everyone. The Funeral Directors will worry and increase their insurance cover, which will put up their premiums up which in turn they pass back to the customer. Simply a net transfer from the general public to insurance companies – surely no one wants that (apart from the insurance companies that is). I am not saying don’t compensate the poor lady but consider the wider impacts of these massive figures…