By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Nine months after millionaire Robert Durst appeared to confess on television to killing his wife, her family is suing for $100 million on the unusual grounds they never got to bury their loved one properly.
While Durst, 72, was never charged in the 1982 disappearance of Kathleen Durst, he is in custody in New Orleans on a federal gun charge while he awaits extradition to Los Angeles for the 2000 killing of longtime friend Susan Berman.
The real estate scion is worth around $100 million, authorities have said.
In filing a lawsuit in New York state court on Monday, attorneys for Kathleen Durst's family relied on an obscure bit of common law, known as the right to sepulcher, which gives families the right to bury their relatives properly.
Right to sepulcher lawsuits, which are rare, typically are filed against institutions such as hospitals that handle bodies.
Marvin Ben-Aron, an attorney who brought one of the few high-profile sepulcher claims in recent years on behalf of a family whose son’s brain ended up in a New York City medical examiner’s office without permission, said he was not aware of any other such lawsuits filed against a private individual for an alleged murder.
“I think it’s a case of first impression,” he said. “It’s definitely unusual.”
The lawsuit was brought by the mother and three sisters of Durst's wife, Kathleen, who was declared legally dead.
"For the past 33 years, Durst has concealed the whereabouts of Kathleen’s body from her next of kin," the complaint said. Their lawyer did not return requests for comment.
Relatives of a murder victim normally cannot sue the supposed killer for emotional harm or wrongful death, according to personal injury attorneys. Instead, any claims would belong to the victim's estate, which would then distribute any damages obtained.
But the right of sepulcher includes the presumption that family members suffer harm when their loved one's body is not promptly turned over for burial.
The HBO series “The Jinx,” which aired earlier this year, documented investigations into Durst’s possible involvement in several murders.
In the final episode, Durst's voice was recorded saying, “What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.”
Durst's lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, said in an email, "There is no evidence that Bob Durst had anything to do with the disappearance, over 30 years ago, of Kathy Durst. This very unusual lawsuit, like any other, will have to be supported by evidence, not by a TV drama."
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)