Lawsuit: Wrong person cremated by Rochester, Minn. funeral home

An Alma, Wis. family is suing the Mayo Clinic and a Rochester, Minn. funeral home after their loved one was cremated when he was supposed to be viewed and buried after he died falling down a flight of stairs.

"It was a little after four o'clock and I got a phone call and they started saying they had mixed up his body and he was cremated, and I just started screaming," said Jennifer Huber, wife of Tony Huber. "He said 'I would not want to be burned.' He called it 'burning.'"

According to the lawsuit filed at the U.S. District Court in Minneapolis:

Anthony Huber, 40, was brought to the Mayo Clinic on May 10, 2015 to be treated for a head injury after falling down a flight of stairs at his home. When he died on May 21, his body was taken to the morgue at the Mayo Clinic where it was held until an autopsy was performed. Huber's family said his body was to be released to the Talbot Funeral Home in Alma, who would "prepare the body for viewing and Christian Burial."

A letter on July 23, 2015 from the Mayo Clinic to Huber's wife, Jennifer, says Huber's body wasn't verified to be the right body before departing to Ranfranz and Vine Funeral Home in Rochester, which the lawsuit says violates the clinic's internal procedures to ensure the right body is released to the funeral home.

The lawsuit cites the letter, in part:

"[a]t the morgue, Mr. Huber's body was placed in a cooler to be held until the autopsy. Staff marked the cooler location and name on the whiteboard used to chart the spaces in the cooler, Mr. Huber's identity was confirmed prior to autopsy and the autopsy was completed. After the autopsy, Mr. Huber's body went to a different location in the cooler but the whiteboard did not reflect the new location. When [Defendant] Ranfranz and Vine arrived for transport of another patient, because of the change in cooler location, [Mr. Huber's] body was removed instead. Although Mayo Clinic and the funeral home routinely check the identifiers to be sure they have the correct patient, in this case, Mr. Huber's identity was not verified before release. The error was recognized when Talbot Funeral Home called to make transportation arrangements."

The lawsuit also states "on information and belief," before a body is cremated, a funeral home will check identifying characteristics of the body and double-check the ID on the body bag zipper tag and the arm band on the body.

The letter to Jennifer from Mayo Clinic continued, "Ranfranz and Vine described their process as follows: A body is transported to their facility in a body bag with an identifying tag. The body is transferred to an area in the cremation facility where it remains until the time of cremation. The identification label on the body bag is removed and placed on the cremation chamber where the body is held. The name from the label is also written on a separate place on the cremation chamber. Paperwork is completed and tagged."

The lawsuit contends Mayo Clinic wrongfully released Huber's body, and Ranfranz and Vine didn't follow its own procedures before Huber was cremated. They're seeking $75,000 in damages from both defendants, attorney fees and other further relief as the court deems just and proper.

"Not being able to grieve, not being able to say good bye one last time, it's an awful feeling," Jennifer said.