Five years after a family buried the wrong body due to a mixup at the Orange County Coroner’s Office, justice has been served.
Less than a month after the trial against the coroner’s office began, a jury has ruled in favor of the family of Frankie Kerrigan who mistakenly held a funeral for a son who was still alive.
It was on May 6, 2017, when Frank Kerrigan received the call no parent wants to receive. His son Frankie had died.
Frankie, who was 57 at the time, suffers from mental illness and was living on the streets, his family said.
Frank Kerrigan was notified by the Orange County Coroner’s Office that a body discovered in Fountain Valley had been positively identified as Frankie through the use of fingerprints.
Devastated by their loss, the Kerrigan family held a funeral and Frankie was buried in a plot next to his mother.
The only problem? It wasn’t Frankie.
Just days after the funeral, Frankie showed up at the home of family friends who had just served as pallbearers at his own funeral.
The family had actually buried another man who has since been identified as John Dickens.
For Frank Kerrigan, despite the relief of learning that his son was alive, he now had to cope with the reality that a stranger had been mistakenly buried next to his wife.
The family filed a lawsuit against the County alleging that the mixup caused emotional stress and mental anguish. On Tuesday, the jury announced that they agreed and awarded the family $1.5 million.
Frank Kerrigan, Frankie’s sister Carole Meikle, and the family’s attorney addressed the media Tuesday at the Orange County Courthouse after learning the verdict.
“It feels like we’ve been vindicated,” Frank Kerrigan said. “Its been a long hard fight.”
Meikle, Frankie’s sister, called the entire saga simply “unbelievable.”
The issue that led to the misidentification of the remains turned out to be caused by an issue with the fingerprint identifying system and the fact that they had used an old ID card to identify Frankie.
“This was a systematic failure within the O.C. Coroner’s Office because they did not have any training or procedure for individuals in their office to understand how their fingerprint system worked or even to confirm that a body was found with fingerprints,” said James Desimone, the family’s attorney.
The family accused Orange County of acting negligently, Desimone said, and the jury agreed.
“At the end of the day, this jury had to find that Orange County acted negligently and we won on every cause of action, which included intentional misrepresentation and negligent misrepresentation,” Desimone said.
In the years since they mistakenly buried the remains of John Dickens, the Kerrigan family has been able to transfer his remains to the care of his loved ones, finally bringing closure to both families.