Posted on Mar 05, 2008

Jury awards $325K after funeral home lost remains

(David Kamerman/Globe Staff)

Therese Bellissimo Benedict and Robert Benedict held hands after the verdict today in Suffolk Superior Court.

By John R. Ellement, Globe Staff

A couple was awarded $325,000 today by a jury that ruled that they suffered emotional distress when the remains of their stillborn son were lost and possibly cremated by a Boston funeral home.

The civil verdict in Suffolk Superior Court came after 1 1/2 days of deliberation and made the couple very happy. Robert and Therese Bellissimo Benedict said they suffered needlessly because of a mistake made by a local funeral home that lost the personal touch when it was absorbed by a national chain. 

The jury found that the funeral home was negligent and caused Robert emotional distress and awarded him $75,000. The jury awarded Therese $250,000 after concluding she was subjected to both negligent actions and intentional infliction of emotional harm.

Therese Bellissimo Benedict was pregnant with twins in 2003 when one fetus -- a boy the couple named Lourdes -- was stillborn. The couple hired JS Waterman & Sons, which was once family owned but had been purchased by Service Corporation International, based in Texas. The funeral home lost Lourdes's remains and ultimately concluded he may have been accidentally cremated with an elderly woman.

The couple said they each suffer equally and will suffer their loss for the rest of their lives. "It was never about the money,' Robert Benedict said. "It was about SCI and their treatment of us.'

Gordon T. Walker, the couple's Boston lawyer, said the ultimate cost to Service Corporation International is not yet final. He said the couple still has a pending claim that the company violated the state's consumer protection law, which could lead to a tripling of the damages, plus attorney's fees.

Kim Pineau, an official with the company who was involved in trying to discover what happened to Lourdes Benedict, spoke briefly following the verdict. "It was a very unfortunate incident and we have been, and remain, very sorry,' she said. "Out of respect for the family, I will have no further comment.'

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