Family members of a man buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale in 2014 reached a settlement with the cemetery in a consolidated lawsuit that alleged some of the plaintiffs were asked to make adjustments in the decedent’s casket while the lid was open after the receptacle proved too wide to fit into the gravesite.
The plaintiffs in the original lawsuit filed in February 2016 were Juana Martin of Glendale, the widow of Agustin Martin; Annabelle Mas and Mark Martin; two of the couple’s children; and two of the Martins’ grandchildren, Kyrsten Mas, who was 25 at the time the suit was filed, and Kellsie Mas, then 23.
Another daughter of the decedent, Amy Martin, filed a separate lawsuit against the cemetery in July 2016 on behalf of herself and her two children. The case was later consolidated with the first lawsuit.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs filed court papers last Tuesday with Glendale Superior Court Judge Ralph C. Hofer asking that the case be dismissed. In April, the plaintiffs’ lawyers filed a notice of settlement that did not divulge the terms.
Lawyers for Forest Lawn had maintained their employees made a mistake and that the cemetery tried to resolve the issue with dignity.
Agustin Martin and his wife bought adjoining plots at the cemetery about 10 years before his death on July 10, 2014, of esophageal cancer. His widow bought a casket for $1,700 and paid for related burial costs, then asked that her husband be buried in front of family members and friends in attendance as he requested before he died, according to the family’s court papers.
The chapel service and burial was held nine days after the family patriarch’s death. The pastor finished prayers, doves were released and the Martin family placed roses on the casket, but workers were unable to lower it into the grave because “because the handles on the casket extended over the sides of the dug grave, rendering the casket wider than the grave,” according to the suit.
According to the family, Forest Lawn employee Michael Vallez, who was directing the gravesite proceedings, said the burial might have to be postponed but they insisted it take place because many of the 175 guests came long distances to be present.
Vallez walked away and made a telephone call, then returned and asked the pallbearers to put the casket in a Forest Lawn van so that it could be altered out of the view of the guests, according to the suit.
Vallez told the decedent’s relatives that the heads of the handle screws that needed to be removed were inside the casket, meaning the lid would have to be re-opened and Agustin Martin’s body would have to be pushed to one side, and the linen lining the casket would also have to be torn to expose the heads of the screws, the first suit stated.
Vallez opened the casket in front of Agustin Martin’s family members and asked the decedent’s children to help him remove the handles, according to the complaint.
Although distressed at Vallez’s request, the Agustin children “crawled into the van and had to constantly maneuver their father’s remains inside the casket so that the lining could be torn open and access to the screws could be had,” according to the first suit. “As they unscrewed the handles, Mark was dripping sweat on his father’s body as it was very hot in the van.”
Due to the delay in the burial while changes were made to the casket, many of the guests left before it was finally lowered into the gravesite, according to the plaintiffs, who “recall the entire experience as horrible, traumatizing and something no family ever have to endure during burial of their loved one.”