Two “Widows,” Two Funerals, and a Lawsuit: Baltimore Funeral Home Sued In Bizarre Alleged Bait-and-Switch

In my torts class, we discuss liability for the mishandling of corpses as well as torts like the intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress related to deceased remains. The latest such example could well be a torts final hypothetical. Wylie Funeral Homes in Baltimore is accused of giving a widow an empty urn and lying about the handling of the remains of her deceased husband. It only gets more bizarre from there. We will be discussing this case in class for years to come.

Ivan Street reportedly died on Jan. 9 from congestive heart failure at 67. Four days later, Demetra Street produced a valid marriage license in arranging a funeral. The couple was separated and living apart. According to her lawyer, who is appropriately named Alex Coffin, she is in fact the only legal widow. The home finalized a $2,500 contract for the funeral.

Demetra Street says that she sang “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” in memory of Ivan Street in front of grieving friends. However, an employee quickly whisked away the urn after the funeral and later employees refused to turn over his ashes.

According to her lawsuit, Wylie Funeral Home was actually confronted with two women claiming to be the widow of Ivan Street. It informed Demetra that another woman was making the claim and Demetra told them that the other woman was not in fact his legal widow.

However, the home allegedly then entered a separate contract with the other woman for a second service. That woman allegedly presented a marriage license from October 1997 that was lacking a seal. Nevertheless, she was given the body, which was actually buried at Baltimore’s Mount Zion Cemetery.

Days after being refused the ashes, Demetra Street was finally told by staffer that her husband has a “resting location at Mt. Zion Cemetery.”

She is now suing the business for $8.5 million, saying it breached its contract with her and made false representations. I have tried to locate the complaint. It presumably contains tort claims in addition to the contracts claims.

We have discussed past cases of mishandling remains, abandonment, abuse of corpses, negligent transportation, misdelivery of remains, criminal acts, and cemetery abuses. While many involve funeral homes, some bizarre cases involvement other individuals abusing corpses, airlines losing corpses, shipping errors, donated body part abuses, hospital theft, and medical examiner abuses.

The common law has long recognized the tort of mishandling corpses. There are other obvious torts. For example, the Restatement (2nd) of Torts, section 46, states:

One who by extreme and outrageous conduct intentionally or recklessly causes severe emotional distress to another is subject to liability for such emotional distress, and if bodily harm to the other results from it, for such bodily harm.

This would seem to meet that standard. Learning that you were singing to an empty urn and that your husband was buried by a stranger is horrific. There are also questions of simple negligence as well as the added question of negligence per se for any violation of an applicable standard of conduct under state or federal law.

Damages in such cases tend to run high due to the intense vulnerability and stress of families in dealing with the loss of a loved one.

The alleged resolution by the funeral home could prove a costly mistake. On the possession of the body, it was expected to confirm the lawful widow rather than attempt a fifty-fifty gamble between the two women. The second woman could also face questions if she was in fact not the lawful widow or not lawfully married. Wylie could try to bring her into the case as a co-defendant or shift the responsibility to her. Two widows are one too many for the law, particularly when that status is critical in the legal claim over a corpse.

20 thoughts on “Two “Widows,” Two Funerals, and a Lawsuit: Baltimore Funeral Home Sued In Bizarre Alleged Bait-and-Switch”

  1. Couldn’t the funeral home have simply filed an action for interpleader, letting the court decide who was rightfully entitled to them?

  2. Here is a drive-thru funeral home.

    You can pay your respects without getting out of your car. Drive up, sob, wave, maybe honk a couple of times, and step on the gas…duty done.

    1. In all seriousness the estimates I’m reading by some Docs/scientist think they know an investment in a D7 Cat for digging mass graves might be wise as they are current thinking between 1.25 to 2.5 BILLION people will be RedRumed/flip from these Binary Bio Weapon GMO Bio Weapons so called CV19 vaxxes 2,3,4,5 + shots.

      Sorry, that’s what the Doc/Pros/Renowed are writing/Saying.

      The most troublesome issue for many of us is while we wait for the outcome of the Gene Therapy Guinea Pigs is that they are reported to be Shedding in Public that might infect the rest of us. Ie: My ignorant daughter, may god bless her. sigh.

      1. BTW: Notice that the WP spell Ck is ph’ing up? I do. Is that part of all these systemic hacks I’m seeing on mulyiple platforms I use?

        Store my cash in Cytpos, Ya Right Suret. LOL;)

      2. You don’t even understand the difference between a vaccine and gene therapy. One has nothing to do with the other, but that doesn’t stop you from believing lies and repeating them, spreading fear and misinformation. The vaccine cannot alter the recipient’s genes. The vaccine uses the virus’s spike protein gene to stimulate immunity to the virus. Gene therapy is something else entirely.

      3. Gene therapy is a technique that modifies a person’s genes to treat or cure disease. Gene therapies can work by several mechanisms:

        Replacing a disease-causing gene with a healthy copy of the gene
        Inactivating a disease-causing gene that is not functioning properly
        Introducing a new or modified gene into the body to help treat a disease

        Gene therapy products are being studied to treat diseases including cancer, genetic diseases, and infectious diseases.

        There are a variety of types of gene therapy products, including:

        Plasmid DNA: Circular DNA molecules can be genetically engineered to carry therapeutic genes into human cells.
        Viral vectors: Viruses have a natural ability to deliver genetic material into cells, and therefore some gene therapy products are derived from viruses. Once viruses have been modified to remove their ability to cause infectious disease, these modified viruses can be used as vectors (vehicles) to carry therapeutic genes into human cells.
        Bacterial vectors: Bacteria can be modified to prevent them from causing infectious disease and then used as vectors (vehicles) to carry therapeutic genes into human tissues.
        Human gene editing technology: The goals of gene editing are to disrupt harmful genes or to repair mutated genes.
        Patient-derived cellular gene therapy products: Cells are removed from the patient, genetically modified (often using a viral vector) and then returned to the patient.

        This graphic depicts the two major types of gene therapy. The illustration on the left shows ex vivo gene therapy, where the cells are modified outside the body and then are delivered back to the patient. The illustration on the right shows in vivo gene therapy, where the genetic modification of the cell takes place inside the body.
        Gene therapy products are biological products regulated by the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER). Clinical studies in humans require the submission of an investigational new drug application (IND) prior to initiating clinical studies in the United States. Marketing a gene therapy product requires submission and approval of a biologics license application (BLA).

        This is from the FDA website. Whoever told you that the vaccines are “gene therapy” is either uninformed or lying.

  3. The funeral home should have suspended everything until their lawyer could have verified who had the proper authority.

    It sounds like this man’s relationship troubles continued even long after he died. This is yet another reminder to make things right with your loved ones, or your legacy will be misery.

    1. Patc:

      Agree completely. Plus please help all those Afghanis who helped the US, at tremendous personal risk. Most of them have been left behind.

      The Biden Administration admitted today there is no plan to get Americans outside of Kabul. The Taliban has set up checkpoints, and we have no plan to deal with them. There are thousands of Americans, and thousands of Afghani helpers, who are trapped in the country. The Taliban is going door to door, killing those who collaborated with us.

      I’ve often said that you can find people who would fit in well to our Western values in every country on Earth. You just have to find them. These Afghanis stuck their necks out to help our soldiers fight terrorists, educate Afghani women, and try to modernize a stone age extremist country known for slaughtering women who leave the house without a male chaperone. If that’s not an act of loyalty to our Western ideals, I don’t know what is.

      We’ve got to save these people. Now.

      A woman was just shot for leaving her home without a burka. It’s escalating.

      1. The Biden Administration “admitted” no such thing. Thousands of Americans and Afghanis are being flown out around the clock, every single day. This was Trump’s debacle: announcing a 5/31/21 date for withdrawal, agreeing, in advance, to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners, drawing down our troops from 14,000 to 5,000, and agreeing to concessions on behalf of the Afghan government without even involving them in negotiations. While your fat hero was in office, why didn’t he have a plan for getting out Americans, or even get the process of withdrawal started? Afghanistan is just another mess left for Biden to clean up, and which is being used as fodder for alt-right media to criticize Biden.

        Once more, you are parroting what you heard on your daily affirmation source. Our mission in Afghanistan was to prevent another 911 terrorist attack and to stop Al Qaida from using Afghanistan as a place to hide and staging area for terrorists. That mission was accomplished years ago. Biden want us to get out back when he was VP, but no one listened to him then. We were not there to “educate Afghan women and try to modernize a stone age extremist country”. There’s no “Western loyalty” involved at all. No one asked us to come there and “modernize” them or re-educate them to our values–we just moved in and routed Al Qaida, but, as it turns out Bin Laden was in Pakistan, not Afghanistan. And, it was Bush who started this war. If Hannity is telling you America was asked to come to Afghanistan to “modernize” it or “educate it” on Western values or to get them to change their values about womens’ rights, he’s lying. And, no, we’re not going to start another war over their culture.

  4. A little off topic. But it does contain a corpse at the funeral home.

    I had a customer, that whose elderly mother succumbed to old age. Condolences all around.
    The fun(?) starts with the children disagreeing with how to conduct the final arrangements. I was three against one. The one having decades long history of being a contrarian.
    After the break down of communications, the One, stole his mother from the funeral home in the dead of night. I have lived in half a dozen small towns across Iowa, and know first hand how death, to often splits families apart, and cause animosity that rarely heals over time. But never have I ever heard of a corpse being stolen.

    In this case they negotiated a settlement to appease all parties and services moved on.

    A foot note. The recalcitrant brother was highly educated, and held a Phd, and 3 different Masters degrees, all in the sciences. He had also by the time of his mothers passing, been barred from bringing law suits in any Iowa Court. He was a self declared country lawyer and had abused the system one too many times.
    Just a data point to establish this was not a hick with a temper, but a highly credentialed and accomplished individual.

    1. “a highly credentialed and accomplished individual.” Those are usually the worst kind. Especially the Ivy Leaguers.

    2. Then, there’s the tale of Anna Nicole Smith and her step-son, who fought over her husband’s cremated remains. They actually entered into an agreement to split up the cremains 50/50. Both of them are now dead, too.

  5. This could be a good bar exam question – takes in a whole lot with a few more facts. Contracts, Torts, Family Law, Fraud. You could write on this for the full allowed time and not be finished

    Oh, and welcome back

  6. Anyone who has taught law should realize the later experiences of the typical legal rookie bears no resemblance to the practice of law the student encounters. It’s a club to join where the Rule of Law becomes “cuz I said so that’s why!” Where the Court Clerk’s operate fiefdoms that use their own terms and interpret clearly established laws as somehow negotiable and less important.

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