US NEWS California family receives $1.5M settlement after coroner's mix-up had...

California family receives $1.5M settlement after coroner’s mix-up had them burying wrong body

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A coroner accidentally identified a dead body as the wrong person. Five years later, a California jury has awarded the family of the non-dead man $1.5 million.

On May 6, 2017, Frank Kerrigan got a call to tell him his son, 57-year-old Frankie, was dead. A body had been found in Fountain Valley and his fingerprints matched those of Frankie.

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The Kerrigans buried Frankie next to his mother.

Frankie, left, and Frank Kerrigan. (Courtesy of V. James DeSimone Law)

But Frankie wasn’t dead. Instead, the body belonged to 54-year-old John Dean Dickens, who was now buried in the family’s plot. Frankie was living on the streets and, days after the funeral, showed up at the house of a family friend who had served as a pallbearer.

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“The jury not only found that the Orange County Coroner’s Office was negligent, but that its coroners made intentional misrepresentations to the Kerrigan family,” James Desimone, the Kerrigans’ attorney, said in a statement. “The jury’s verdict speaks volumes — Orange County should treat everyone with care and concern when dealing with issues as important as life and death. And if the county institutes a new fingerprint system make sure you provide training and make sure your coroners understand how the system works.”

Agreeing with Desimone that the coroner’s office had shown negligence in the identification, the jury awarded $1.1 million to Francis Kerrigan and $400,000 to his daughter, Carole Meikle, Tuesday.

Dickens’ remains have since been returned to his family for proper burial.

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