Cremated Taoist man given Christian funeral rites: Family suing undertaker, others for $225,000

Shaffiq Alkhatib
The Straits Times
Aug 21, 2023

Family members of an 82-year-old man who was wrongly cremated in December 2019 are now seeking $225,000 in general damages from the parties they believe are linked to the mix-up.

The late Mr Kee Kin Tiong, a Taoist, had been given Christian funeral rites meant for a 70-year-old man who was scheduled for cremation at the time.

The Kee family’s legal team stated in court documents: “The plaintiffs... were thus irreversibly denied the opportunity to say their final goodbyes... as they were left with no body to conduct a funeral wake in accordance with Taoist funerary rites for.”

Among other things, Mr Kee’s loved ones are also seeking special damages of nearly $2,260 for psychiatric consultation with a doctor and $14,000 which is the estimated sum of future grief therapy.

On the first day of the civil trial on Monday, the court heard that the plaintiffs – Mr Kee’s five adult children and one granddaughter – are represented by lawyers from Fortis Law Corporation.

The first defendant is Ms Tan Ah Mui, trading as Tan Khiam Soon Undertaker. The solicitors are from Selvaraju Law Chambers and Kannan SG.

Century Products, which had provided the embalming services, and Ms Harmony Tee Jing Yi, who was from Harmony Funeral Care at the time, are also defendants. They are represented by Invictus Law Corporation.

Mr Nicholas Ang Kai, who was then working for Harmony Funeral Care, was also named in the suit. He is represented by Quahe Woo & Palmer.

The court heard that Mr Kee died on Dec 29, 2019, and one of his children then engaged Tan Khiam Soon Undertaker to hold a seven-day funeral wake and his subsequent cremation.

On the same day, the undertaker sent Mr Kee’s body to Century Products’ embalming studio in Sin Ming Drive, near Upper Thomson Road, at around 9.40pm. A freelance embalmer later started work on Mr Kee’s body.

At around 7.20am the next morning, Mr Ang collected a body that was supposed to be that of the 70-year-old man from the embalming studio. The younger man’s body had been sent there the day before, at around 2pm to 3pm.

A Tan Khiam Soon Undertaker employee arrived there shortly before 9am to collect Mr Kee’s body and found that it was missing.

By then, Mr Kee’s body had been taken to a Christian funeral, and was later cremated.

His family members found out about the wrongful cremation at around 10am.

On Monday, the plaintiffs’ legal team told the court that a doctor diagnosed all six of its clients with persistent complex bereavement-related disorder (PCBD) in March 2021.

The lawyers alleged that Century Products and Mr Ang had been negligent.

They said the company had failed to perform tasks such as maintaining a proper log book of bodies received by and collected from the embalming studio.

The lawyers also said that Ms Tee had liability for Mr Ang’s acts and that she had allegedly failed to provide him with proper job training.

Mr Ang’s legal team, however, said that he does not owe any duty of care to the plaintiffs, adding: “Even if there was any duty of care owed (which is denied), (he) has not breached the standard of care that was expected of him, nor did he act negligently.”

Century Products’ lawyers, who also represent Ms Tee, said in their opening statement that the plaintiffs do not suffer from conditions such as PCBD.

Stressing that the doctor had diagnosed the six plaintiffs based on a single consultation for each of them, the lawyers added: “The plaintiffs exhibited no signs of abnormality in their mental state and the diagnosis was completely based on the plaintiffs’ self-reported symptoms.”

The Kee family’s claim against Tan Khiam Soon Undertaker is over an alleged breach of contract.

Among other things, the lawyers said that there were implied terms in an oral contract that the undertaker had to ensure that Mr Kee’s body was stored safely at all times while in its possession and/or custody.

Tan Khiam Soon Undertaker’s legal team, however, stated in its opening statement that there was no breach of contract and contended that the quantum of general damages claimed is disproportionately high.

The trial continues.

The Straits Times

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