A New Jersey family is suing a funeral home for $50 million, accusing it of nearly burying the wrong person because of a devastating mix-up as it tried to lay their 93-year-old mother to rest.
Family members of Kyung Ja Kim, who died Nov. 10, said they knew something was wrong when they gathered for the open-casket funeral at Promise Church in Leonia on Nov. 13.
In their lawsuit, which was filed Monday, they allege that Kyung Ja Kim's daughter Kummi Kim told the funeral director that the person lying in the casket did not look like her mother.
The funeral director "responded with a very clear expression of denial and dismay over the question as if Plaintiff Kummi did not appreciate a different appearance after death," the lawsuit said.
As a result, the daughter rationalized that her mother's "altered appearance" could have been due to the embalming process and the application of heavy mortuary makeup and fake hair, as well as "some type of filler such as Botox," according to the suit.
It was only after the woman's casket was lowered into the ground that the funeral director admitted to a major mistake — that the wrong person was in the casket, the family alleges.
Not only that, but the family told NBC New York that the body in the casket, who also shared the name Kim, turned out to be about 20 years younger than Kyung Ja Kim and also had its own teeth, while Kyung Ja Kim had worn dentures.
“To add to the shock and disgust over the mishandling of the decedent’s body,” the funeral home employees placed the dentures under the pillow of the coffin with the wrong body inside, the lawsuit said. The body wrongly placed in Kyung Ja Kim's coffin had also been dressed in their mother's clothing, according to the suit.
Now, the family is suing Central Funeral Home of New Jersey and Blackley Funeral Home and Cremation Services Inc., both of Ridgefield, for $50 million. The two funeral homes are run out of the same facility. The lawsuit also named the person alleged to be the funeral director and a second person as defendants.
The family have said that if they win the lawsuit, they plan to donate the money to two churches their mother cared about greatly.
They allege that workers at the funeral home failed to follow their own policies to ensure that bodies were properly identified.
As a result, Kyung Ja Kim's loved ones "suffered great shock, emotional distress and psychological pain and hurt upon learning that the passing of their mother was not properly celebrated but that the body of a stranger was wearing the decedent’s clothing and personal effects and placed in her coffin in error," the lawsuit said.
In the suit, the family said the funeral home did not immediately tell the other family about the mix-up, an accusation that NBC News was not able to independently verify.
Kyung Ja Kim was buried a day after the incident in a "makeshift funeral" held at the Central Funeral Home's facility, the lawsuit states. But her family was never able to fulfill her "final wish" of having a church service as Mass being held that day, a Sunday.
“I feel very sad and angry that we couldn’t accomplish her final wish, that she wanted to say bye to us at the church,” Kummi Kim told NBC New York.
Central Funeral Home of New Jersey and Blackley Funeral Home and Cremation Services did not immediately respond to requests for comment from NBC News. NBC New York asked the owners several times, but they did not respond to requests for comment.
The family said they received an offer for a refund of the $9,000 check they provided for the funeral service. While the family said they did receive a verbal apology from the funeral homes, they said a refund and an apology are not enough.
The lawsuit claims loss of right to interment; negligent infliction of emotional distress; intentional infliction of emotional distress; battery, for mishandling the body of the deceased; and breach of contract.