Arizona family sues over kin's shattered casket

AP News
Posted: Nov 27, 2009 1:31 PM

A suburban Phoenix family is suing after their father's body slipped from a shattered casket when it was dropped into a grave during a burial ceremony.

Lawsuits filed by the children, wife and two dozen family members of 50-year-old Robert Gowdy Sr. claim a strap on a casket-lowering device snapped as family was gathered around a grave last year, dropping Gowdy's coffin and breaking it open. Cemetery workers ran away, the family said.

Two family members tried to lift the casket but the bottom dropped out, exposing that it was made of stapled-together particle board, according to the lawsuit against the city of Mesa and its workers, the funeral home, casket company and device-maker.

The Gowdys said they had contracted with the funeral home to purchase a solid wood casket. The funeral director for the Preston Funeral Home in Phoenix told them the model wasn't available, and offered an upgrade to a better model, they said.

City Attorney James Fritz blamed the casket's sharp edges for breaking the strap and said in court documents that the city wasn't liable. A call seeking comment from the funeral director wasn't immediately returned on Friday.

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Six days after the May 10, 2008, incident, family and friends gathered for a second burial. The suit says Roxanne Gowdy asked to view her husband's body one last time and was "mortified" to find him dressed in a black pinstripe suit he never would have worn and mismatched clothes. The funeral home had apparently redressed him because his original burial outfit was soiled.

Roxanne Gowdy referred questions to her lawyer, who didn't return calls.


Information from: The Arizona Republic,