The Fourth Department determined plaintiffs had raised a question of fact whether the hospital defendants made reasonable and sufficient efforts to locate the decedent’s next of kin in this right-of-sepulcher case alleging defendants interfered with plaintiffs right to immediate possession of decedent’s body. After the hospital defendants failed to locate the next of kin, the investigation was turned over to the County Public Administrator (PA). After the PA failed to locate the next of kin the decedent was buried. After plaintiffs learned of decedent’s death, the body was exhumed and a memorial service was held at the PA’s expense. The suit against the County PA was properly dismissed because the PA enjoyed governmental function immunity and no special duty was owed plaintiffs:
The common-law right of sepulcher “affords the decedent’s next of kin an absolute right to immediate possession of a decedent’s body for preservation and burial . . . , and damages may be awarded against any person who unlawfully interferes with that right or improperly deals with the decedent’s body” … . “To establish a cause of action for interference with the right of sepulcher, [a] plaintiff must establish that: (1) plaintiff is the decedent’s next of kin; (2) plaintiff had a right to possession of the remains; (3) defendant interfered with plaintiff’s right to immediate possession of the decedent’s body; (4) the interference was unauthorized; (5) plaintiff was aware of the interference; and (6) the interference caused plaintiff mental anguish” … . * * *
… [P]laintiffs identified certain records of the hospital defendants, which indicated that decedent had resided, on some occasions, at a local homeless shelter. Those documents were available to the hospital defendants at the time they conducted their search for decedent’s next of kin, and there is no dispute that the hospital defendants did not attempt to contact that homeless shelter during their search.
Plaintiffs also submitted deposition testimony from a person employed by the homeless shelter, who testified that decedent was a frequent resident there and that she knew members of decedent’s family and could have contacted them if she had been notified of decedent’s death. Green v Iacovangelo, 2020 NY Slip Op 03363, Fourth Dept 6-12-20