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Vol. 9 - Issue 5
July 16, 2020


Court: Mistakenly Cremating A Body – And Giving Ashes To The Wrong Family, Who Buried Them – Is A “Snafu” And Not A Professional Service


This a sad case.  But then again, that’s the very nature of liability coverage.  After all, nobody makes an insurance claim when things go right.       

Ohio Sec. Ins. Co. v. Grace Funeral Home, Inc., No. 6:19-CV-0041 (S.D. Tex. June 28, 2020) involves coverage for two tragic funeral home mistakes.  I’ll address one of them here.

After Roberta Salazar’s death in May 2017, her family arranged for an open casket funeral with Ms. Salazar, per her request, wearing a dress given to her by her late husband for their 40th anniversary.  However, her body was erroneously cremated and her ashes delivered to another family -- who buried them.

The Salazar family filed suit against Grace Funeral Home, asserting claims that included breach of contract, wrongful cremation, negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress. 

Grace requested that its general liability insurer provide it with a defense. Coverage litigation ensued.  The insurer asserted that it had no duty to defend Grace because the suit came within the   “professional services” exclusion of the insurance policy.

The Professional Services Exclusion precludes from coverage any injury or damage caused by “the rendering or failure to render any professional service.” It then lists several examples – not an exclusive list -- of “professional services.”  Nothing in the list encompasses funerary services.

The court held that the Salazar lawsuit fell outside the scope of the exclusion, emphasizing that the complaint did not mention anything about the quality of Grace’s handling of the body. According to the Court, such claims are the type to which the exclusion would apply.

Here, however, the Court concluded that Grace’s mishap was a “snafu” -- a clerical or administrative error that did not result from professional services.  Thus, a defense was owed to the funeral home. 

The court did not address what’s a snafu and when does a snafu become a professional service.  The best we can take away is that a snafu is a clerical or administrative error or something along those lines.  In general, the court knows a snafu when it sees one.  I do too.  And this was no snafu.  This error with Ms. Salazar’s body went to the heart of Grace’s highly specialized business – not botching a burial.  A snafu is when the dry clearer gives you someone else’s shirts – not when a funeral home gives you someone else’s ashes.

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