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A funeral home that cremated the wrong person should pay close to $1 million for the mix-up, a jury has decided. Car crash victim Matthew Miller, 20, was sent to the Akins Funeral Home to be buried. Instead, the Russellville, Ala., home cremated him after confusing him with another victim of the same accident. A jury awarded $950,000 to Miller’s relatives, finding the funeral home negligent and wanton in handling a human body. Miller v. Kilgore-Green Funeral Home, No. CV 2000-261 (Walker Co., Ala., Dist. Ct.). Plaintiff’s attorney Garvey Ivey Jr. of Jasper, Ala.’s Ivey & Ragsdale said the trial emphasized the family’s “strong religious and personal beliefs” against cremation and the fact that the funeral home allegedly “showed no remorse.” Defense attorney Larry Bradford of Birmingham, Ala.’s Bradford & Donahue did not return calls. ALABAMA ‘OUTRAGE’ The auto accident happened in February 2000 as Miller was driving on Alabama Highway 5 with two friends, Johnny Russell and Louise David. His car was struck by an 18-wheeler. All three were killed. According to the complaint, Miller’s brother came to the accident scene and “while under extreme emotional distress, allegedly identified the Russell body as being the Miller body.” Russell’s family wanted him to be cremated, and Miller’s family opted for burial for Matthew. But when an Akins Funeral Home representative came to the coroner’s office to pick up Miller’s body for burial, they took Russell instead. According to Ivey, the Miller family went to the funeral home that afternoon to view Matthew’s body, but Akins allegedly refused to let them in “until they advanced certain sums of money.” When the Millers arrived at Tharptown Friendship Holiness Church for Matthew’s funeral, the body they saw in the casket was not Matthew Miller’s. It was Russell’s. Only later did Miller’s family learn that their son had been cremated. “If they would have let the mother and spouse look at the body, the cremation would never have happened,” Ivey said. “It’s irreversible.” At trial, grief counselor Dr. Judy Davidson of Berea, Ky., explained the funeral process and the closure it provides to the victim’s family. In addition to the negligence charge, the jury returned one count of “outrage,” an Alabama version of intentional infliction of emotional distress that Ivey said is reserved for an extreme act, like mishandling a body.

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