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Illinois Personal Injury Claims for Emotional Distress May Arise From Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office Misconduct

There is perhaps nothing nearly as difficult an experience as losing a loved one. When those that we care about pass away, we honor their memories and can only hope that they’re in a better place.

That’s exactly why this is so disturbing: in addition to having to endure the agony of loss, hundreds of Chicagoans are distressed to learn that their family members and loved ones have been denied a proper burial by the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office.

According to a recent report by MSNBC, it was revealed human remains had been stockpiled in the morgue’s coolers, some doubled up on trays.

A Chicago personal injury attorney will attest that, under Illinois law, a claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress may arise in situations like these. The underlying concept of this area of Illinois personal injury law is that individuals and businesses have a general legal duty to use reasonable care to avoid causing emotional distress to another person. If the acting individual or company fails in their duty and unreasonably causes emotional distress to the other person, the actor may be held legally responsible, and may be made to pay damages to the harmed individual. In this case, when people discover that the bodies of their family members have been treated with disrespect, they may have the basis for a personal injury claim.

Jurisdictions, such as Illinois, allow for recovery for these types of claims in situations where the distress:
1. is inflicted intentionally; or,
2. is directly associated with a physical injury negligently inflicted upon a victim; or,
3. is caused by defamation and libel; or,
4. stems from witnessing a gruesome accident as a bystander; or,
5. is the product of some misconduct universally recognized as causing emotional distress such as mishandling a loved one’s corpse, or failing to deliver a death notice in a timely manner.

This is the second similar situation in Chicagoland. In 2009, the Cook County, Illinois Sheriff’s Office reported that a number of workers at Burr Oak Cemetery had dug up more than 200 graves, dismembered the bodies and dumped them into mass graves, and resold the plots to make more money. As the investigation continued, it was discovered that records indicated that between 140,000 and 148,000 people were buried at Burr Oak, though the cemetery only had space for 130,000 graves. Following this despicable display of disrespect, our Chicago personal injury lawyers have represented a number of individuals whose family members were buried at Burr Oak, and suffered emotional distress as a result of the uncivil treatment of their loved ones.

In this more recent situation, MSNBC reports, the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Catholic Cemeteries offered up to 300 graves and services to help clear the backlog of remains, though commissioners are working to make sure that no individuals are buried in Catholic plots whose families wanted them buried elsewhere. Additionally, the Cook County Board approved measures making it easier to fire the chief medical examiner, who, until now, has enjoyed a virtual lifetime appointment.

Emotional distress is a very serious tort. If you have suffered as a result of finding that your loved one’s remains have been treated with disrespect, contact an attorney to better understand your rights under the law.