Mom's casket dropped, family gets $80k

August 16, 2012
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Source:  Wood TV

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) – A Grand Rapids family is getting an $80,000 settlement payout from a funeral home whose staff they say dropped their mother’s coffin, causing her body to fall onto the ground outside the church where her funeral was about to take place.

The incident happened Nov. 16, 2010 outside the Neland Avenue Christian Reformed Church in southeast Grand Rapids.

Family members told 24 Hour News 8 that staff from the Ivy K. Gillespie Funeral Home in Grand Rapids was removing the casket carrying Ellnora James’ body from the hearse outside the church when somehow the coffin fell and broke open. The woman’s body fell onto the ground.

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Some family members witnessed the incident, though none of them were listed as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, family members told 24 Hour News 8.

“This is the last time you get to show your respects for your loved ones,” said Dean Libbett, James’ son. “There was no respect and there was no dignity and there was no remorse for what happened.”

Libett said family members knew something was wrong when funeral staff contacted the family asking for new clothing for James. Funeral staff told him, he said, that there was a spill.

“Not saying that the spill was my mother,” Libett said.

When family members arrived at the funeral, they noticed that James was in a different casket than the one she selected when pre-planning her funeral. They also noticed that she appeared “slumped” in the casket and a strange demeanor among the staff working at the funeral.

Crystal Whittington, a representative with the Ivy K. Gillespie Funeral Home said she was remorseful about the situation and the funeral home staff apologized to the family. She declined to comment further because “I don’t know legally what I can and cannot say.”

“We truly, truly, truly apologize,” Whittington said.

Some family members were upset the case did not go to trial.

Libbett said it’s hard not to think about what happened at the funeral when he remembers his mother. While he doesn’t think the settlement was appropriate, he said no amount of money would have relieved the pain of what he and his family endured.

“It’s a hurt when you can’t help someone you really loved,” he said. “There’s no way to repair it.”

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