Nova Scotia

Funeral home that mixed up bodies, mistakenly cremated one, faces lawsuit

The family of a Berwick, N.S., woman whose remains were mixed up with another person and mistakenly cremated almost two years ago is suing the company that owns the funeral home where the "horror story" took place.

Family says it has suffered severe emotional shock, upset and anxiety

The Berwick Funeral Chapel is where Sandra Bennett's funeral took place. (CBC)

The family of a Berwick, N.S., woman whose remains were mixed up with another person and mistakenly cremated almost two years ago is suing the company that owns the funeral home where the "horror story" took place.

The lawsuit by Sandra Bennett's family was filed Dec. 16 in Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Kentville. The defendant is 3270077 Nova Scotia Limited, the numbered company that operates the Berwick Funeral Chapel, as well as several other funeral homes in Nova Scotia.

The statement of claim alleges that Bennett's husband, Gary, and their son, Tim, were shocked when they went to a visitation on Dec. 27, 2017, at the Berwick Funeral Chapel and discovered it was not their wife and mother in the casket.

The lawsuit said funeral home employee Ted McCreadie "repeatedly attempted to convince the plaintiffs that the casket contained the body of the late Sandra G.T. Bennett, but that the plaintiffs were too upset to recognize her."

It goes on to say that McCreadie then brought out a second casket containing the body of another female. When the family said it was not their loved one, the lawsuit said McCreadie again attempted to convince the plaintiffs the second casket contained Bennett's body.

Tony Facey is the owner of the Berwick Funeral Chapel and was not disciplined because of the mix-up. (FuneralPlanningMadeSimple.com)

The lawsuit said a lengthy argument took place and the family was left alone for 45 minutes while McCreadie tried to figure out what was wrong. It said when McCreadie returned to tell them Bennett had been cremated, her husband collapsed.

The statement of claim said when the man came to, he was told his wife's ashes were at another funeral that was taking place in nearby Coldbrook. They were told to wait until that service was finished before Bennett's ashes could be returned to Berwick for her funeral, which was slated for later that day.

What was supposed to be a memorable celebration of Sandra Bennett's life "was transformed into a virtual horror story shrouded in misery, anger and uncertainty," said the statement of claim.

Family unsure who they buried

The ashes were finally returned to Berwick, but the lawsuit said the plaintiffs aren't sure whether the ashes belong to Bennett.

The lawsuit alleges negligence by funeral home staff and said the family members have suffered, among other things, PTSD, depression, severe emotional shock, upset and anxiety.

None of the allegations has yet been proven in court, although the Nova Scotia Board of Registration of Embalmers and Funeral Directors withdrew the licence of funeral director David Farmer, finding him guilty of negligence and professional misconduct for mistakenly cremating Bennett's body.

The provincial government's Registrar of Funeral Services also suspended the business from doing cremations for 30 days.

What the board found

In the board's decision against the owner of the funeral home, Tony Facey, the allegation of a second casket being brought to the Bennett family was not founded. That determination was based solely on funeral home staff testimony.

Bennett's family refused to attend the board's inquiry, saying it was one-sided and unfair, since they were only allowed to testify, not hear testimony or ask questions.

The board made a number of recommendations that the province accepted. One of them centred on labelling bodies as soon as the funeral home takes possession of them. The government did not specify what kind of label should be used, although some funeral homes use metal tags with numbers that can survive the cremation process and ensure the remains are properly identified.

The lawsuit is claiming unspecified general and special damages.

The defendant has yet to file a response.

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About the Author

Yvonne Colbert

Consumer Watchdog

Yvonne Colbert has been a journalist for nearly 35 years, covering everything from human interest stories to the provincial legislature. These days, she's focused on helping consumers get the most bang for their bucks and avoid being ripped off. She invites story ideas at yvonne.colbert@cbc.ca.