Westman v. Rogers Family Funeral Home

by Rick Hanig, The Recorder

A class action filed alleging that Contra Costa County’s Roger’s Funeral Home Inc. and its subsidiaries mishandled dead bodies has settled to the tune of $4 million- all of the company’s collectable assets.

“We’ve recovered 100 percent of the proceeds that might be available,” said Randall Aiman-Smith of McPhee & Aiman-Smith in Oakland, which represented the plaintiffs along with the Law Office of Richard Brown in Alamo; Gillan, Jacobson, Ellis & Larsen in Orinda; and the Law office of Robert Goldstein in Oakland.

The suit, Westman v. Rogers Family Funeral Home Inc. C. 98-03165, alleged that the funeral home company failed to properly store bodies awaiting cremation and to properly identify bodies, and at times provided families with the wrong cremated remains.

Although Judge David Flinn of the Contra Costa Superior Court gave the settlement his approval on Dec. 8, Aiman-Smith said the plaintiffs’ legal team held off going public with the decision until this week to give themselves enough time to properly reach as many potential claimants as possible.

“If we had made a big splash on Dec. 8, they would have got the information piecemeal,” said Aiman-Smith.”

Since Flinn gave the settlement preliminary approval, the plaintiffs’ attorneys have launched a Web site where potential claimants can see if there loved one is one of the approximately 400 deceased the funeral company handled between Feb. 15, 1997, and Feb. 15, 1999, the period covered by the suit.

They also have sent out a mass mailing and tried to get the word out via other means as well.

Aiman-Smith said the plaintiffs’ attorneys fees compromise approximately 25 percent of the total settlement.

By settling, the defendants should be in the clear against further legal action filed against them. The deal also allows them to not admit any wrongdoing.

In August 1998, the California Department of Consumer Affairs settled with Christopher and Laurel Rogers over allegations of gross misconduct in the fiver funeral homes the couple owned. Among the state’s claims, the department said the defendants delivered the wrong cremated remains to the families in six instances, let some bodies decompose before cremating them, and abandoned 10 bodies in two vans parked outside one of their funeral parlors.

The state stripped the couple of their funeral and cemetery licenses. No fine was levied again the Rogers but should either of them ever apply to be licensed again, they’ll have to pay in excess of $30,000 to reimburse the department for investigation and enforcement costs.