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Woman Gets $72,500 for Mortuary Error : Suffered Trauma After Wrong Body Was Identified as Dead Son

May 05, 1985|JAMES S. GRANELLI | Times Staff Writer

A Garden Grove woman who went to a funeral home to view the body of her son and found the wrong corpse has won a jury verdict of $72,500 for the continued nightmares and flashbacks she said she has suffered since the incident.

Happy with the verdict and relieved the suit is over, Vera M. Durr, 63, said the visions are "horrible."

Her son--a U.S. Navy hero--died three years ago in an accident, but his body was switched with that of another victim of the same incident.

Defense attorney Robert J. Overzyl of Los Angeles said that Humphrey Mortuary of San Diego probably would not appeal the verdict and would pay the judgment, which, with interest and court costs, will be more than $80,000.

Claim Filed Against Navy

Humphrey Mortuary has filed a claim against the Navy to pay a portion or all of the damages, Overzyl said.

Petty Officer 1st Class Joseph A. Durr, 26, died when he tried to rescue two shipmates who were overcome by Freon gas while working on a refrigeration unit on the U.S. missile cruiser Bainbridge while it was docked in San Diego on Jan. 25, 1982.

The two shipmates also died, and seven other sailors were injured in rescue attempts aboard the nuclear-powered ship.

One or more employees of Humphrey Mortuary--which had a Navy contract at the time to embalm, prepare and ship bodies of dead Navy personnel--picked up the three bodies, apparently without realizing that toe tags on two of them carried Joseph Durr's name.

Didn't Meet Standards

Testimony at the trial, which began last Monday and ended with the verdict on Thursday, indicated that Humphrey failed to meet the standard level of care in the mortuary industry by not verifying the identification of the bodies it was accepting.

Humphrey sent what it thought was Durr's body to Mettler Mortuary in Garden Grove, where Durr's wife, mother, twin brother and sister went, only to find another body in Durr's uniform.

"I screamed and yelled, and my daughter screamed and yelled," Vera Durr said. "His wife yelled, 'I knew he wouldn't leave me with two children.' Naturally, I thought it was a big mistake. I thought he was in a hospital."

But Durr was dead. Humphrey Mortuary took the wrong body back and shipped Durr's body the next day.

Nightmares and Flashbacks

Vera Durr said that she has had nightmares several times a week and flashbacks during the day nearly as often. Her attorney, Christopher B. Mears of Orange, likened the emotional problems to the stress suffered by a number of Vietnam War veterans.

Joseph Durr's wife--who has remarried and is living in South Carolina--and his children settled a legal action against the Navy out of court.

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