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Graveyard Lawsuit-- YAIDOCS

Law Risk Management Lawsuit

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#1 Rov Judicata

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Posted 04 June 2003 - 09:48 AM

http://story.news.ya.../od_nm/grave_dc

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SULTAN, Wash. (Reuters) - A 375-pound woman who found herself with one foot in the grave three years ago when she went to pay respects to her late great-grandfather, is now suing a city in Washington state for neglecting its cemetery.

  

Dorothy VerValen of Kalilspell, Montana, says she was using her car keys to scrape moss off the lettering on the tombstone, when the decaying wood coffin collapsed beneath her. Her right foot sank 30 inches into the grave of Harry L. Smith, who died in 1943.


VerValen, 51, said her left ankle remained on firm ground, but was severely fractured by the fall. Her adult daughter pulled her out and helped her limp back to her car.


VerValen's lawsuit claims that by failing to adequately maintain graves, the city of Sultan, Washington caused her emotional distress and physical injury.


However the city of Sultan, which is about 60 miles northeast of Seattle, argues that the cemetery is protected under Washington's Recreational Use Act, meaning that people must use it at their own risk.


It further suggests that VerValen's excessive weight probably contributed to the accident.


"For them to shift the burden of keeping a place safe only for skinny people is very unfair," said VerValen's attorney, Robert Butler. "That argument has no business at all in this case."

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#2 Bad Wolf

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Posted 04 June 2003 - 10:03 AM

Well the argument about her weight has no place in this.  However I imagine it's going to be hard to get over the assumption of risk argument if its statutory.
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#3 Rov Judicata

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Posted 04 June 2003 - 10:06 AM

It's the presumption of risk that's the sticking point.

But *everything* has a weight safety limit; how high is a cemetery supposed to make that threshold?
St. Louis must be destroyed!

Me: "I have a job and five credit cards and am looking into signing a two year lease.  THAT MAKES ME OLD."
Josh: "I don't have a job, I have ONE credit card, I'm stuck in a lease and I'm 28! My mom's basement IS ONE BAD DECISION AWAY!"
~~ Josh, winning the argument.

"Congress . . . shall include every idiot, lunatic, insane person, and person non compos mentis[.]" ~1 U.S.C. § 1, selectively quoted for accuracy.

#4 Jid

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Posted 04 June 2003 - 10:10 AM

Ummmm.... how exactly are the graveyard maintenance people supposed to be responsible for maintaining a 60 year old wood casket?

I mean, no offense intended, but I somehow doubt that in 1943 anyone thought that 60 years later the equivalent weight of two "average" people would be focused on one area of old wood that's already bearing the weight of the soil over top like that.

Which would come to the question of what exactly they were responsible for?  Is she upset that the casket gave way, or that they hadn't kept a 60 year old tombstone pristine causing her to have to brush stuff away?

Because if it's the former - what were they supposed to do?  Exhume the casket at regular intervals to check for signs of decay?

Edited by Jid, 04 June 2003 - 10:11 AM.

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#5 Bad Wolf

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Posted 04 June 2003 - 10:12 AM

What if three people are paying their respects, say two full grown but average weight men, and one full grown average weight woman.
That's more than 350 pounds.

Sounds to me like the graveyard WAS being badly maintained.

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#6 Jid

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Posted 04 June 2003 - 10:22 AM

Una Salus Lillius, on Jun 3 2003, 05:16 PM, said:

What if three people are paying their respects, say two full grown but average weight men, and one full grown average weight woman.
That's more than 350 pounds.
If they were all riding piggy back, then it would be equivalent.

I'd be willing to bet a rotting, 60 year old coffin could stand that kind of weight were it distributed more evenly, should all three decide to stand directly on top of the deceased at the same time for some reason.

But I could be wrong, having NO idea how rotted the coffin was, but I still maintain:  How the heck *Could* they maintain that?

Exhumation has red tape up the wazoo, and for something as trivial as to check *in case* a coffin might be starting to show it's age?

Just doesn't fly with me.
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#7 CJ AEGIS

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Posted 04 June 2003 - 10:59 AM

I’ve been in a old cemetery cataloging the details of headstones before they faded away.  Since many of the graves were from before the 20th century and marked with wooden crosses I “fell” into a few graves.  There is nothing like walking along and suddenly plopping 2 feet down realizing you just squished someone’s coffin.  Though after the first three or four times you learn how to spot the signs that a grave rests below.  

Having seen the product of some maintenance and restoration work done on that same cemetery.  I don't think there is too much that you can do.  This one was so bad that headstones were imbedded in trees that were 2 feet in diameter.  The only thing I can think of is to purposefully attempt to collapse the weakened coffins.    Then you would fill in the depression with fresh fill.

Edited by CJ AEGIS, 04 June 2003 - 11:01 AM.

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#8 Laoise

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Posted 04 June 2003 - 01:43 PM

Sounds to me like the only thing a graveyard could do to prevent such a thing is to dig up the graves regularly -- and I imagine that wouldn't go over too well with the family of the dead -- or to, like CJ said, collapse the graves on purpose.  I imagine that wouldn't go over much better.

I think the best course of action is just to make people aware that there are risks in entering an old graveyard and walking over old caskets, and that they should proceed with care.  And that if they can't accept that accidents happen, then to keep out.
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#9 CJ AEGIS

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Posted 04 June 2003 - 02:33 PM

Laoise, on Jun 4 2003, 02:47 AM, said:

I think the best course of action is just to make people aware that there are risks in entering an old graveyard and walking over old caskets, and that they should proceed with care.
In my experience typically when they bad enough that they would collapse under my weight warning signs were present.  There would be a slight depression in the ground that approximated the size of a casket.  It just took those few times to get me looking for them.  That said I’m only like a hair over 50% of her weight….
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#10 Laoise

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Posted 04 June 2003 - 02:54 PM

Most people wouldn't be aware of those signs until *after* they've fell at least once though! :)  What I'd meant was that maybe graveyards should post signs saying "This is a possibility, these are the possible signs, be aware, don't blame us if you don't look, etc".  Until reading this, it never occured to me that might happen outside of urban legans.  It couldn't hurt for graveyards to make sure people know it does really happen.  What more could anyone really ask of them.
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#11 rhuhne

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Posted 04 June 2003 - 04:25 PM

Aren't we not supposed to walk on the graves?

The occasional fall through should be protected by liability insurance.

#12 CJ AEGIS

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Posted 04 June 2003 - 09:00 PM

rhuhne, on Jun 4 2003, 05:29 AM, said:

Aren't we not supposed to walk on the graves?
Often in these old cemeteries the original markers were wooden crosses that are long since gone.
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#13 Kosh

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Posted 05 June 2003 - 12:07 AM

Una Salus Lillius, on Jun 3 2003, 06:07 PM, said:

Well the argument about her weight has no place in this.  However I imagine it's going to be hard to get over the assumption of risk argument if its statutory.
Anyones weight may have caused the grave to collaspe some, but only someone her size would have broken an ankle.



Quote

Dorothy VerValen of Kalilspell, Montana, says she was using her car keys to scrape moss off the lettering on the tombstone, when the decaying wood coffin collapsed beneath her. Her right foot sank 30 inches into the grave of Harry L. Smith, who died in 1943.

The grave was marked, and she was standing on it to clean off the stone. I'm really surprised a wood casket lasted so long.
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#14 Rhea

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Posted 05 June 2003 - 12:14 AM

Hey, there's a reason they tell you not to step on those graves! :p :p

How could anyone with half a brain not GET that the wood in those things rots eventually? And cemeteries don't make it a practice to periodically dig up the dead and rebury them. And rightly so.

Good Lord! The woman should have exercised common sense.  :eek2:

Talk about  frivolous lawsuits, and this has to be the epitome (well, ok, maybe not as bad as suing McDonald's for being overweight, but still...)  :blink:
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#15 Orpheus

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Posted 08 June 2003 - 07:19 AM

If this suit were to set a precedent in favor of  the paintiff,  the simplest, most cost effective, and possibly only practical solution would be to ban visitor access to the grave area. I can name many cemetaries that have done precisely that, though perhaps for other reasons, so this would be both cheap and resiustant to challenge.

Whether or not that is what we want, this has been a steady trend in cemetaries and society in general. Many garages, for example, no longer allow a consumer to protect themselves from fraud or  sabotaged parts ("Look what we found!") by observing work done on their cars "for liability and insurance reasons"



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