Kentucky Appeals Court Holds Funeral Home Owes No Duty to Commonwealth Funeral Procession Participants

by Mandy Hicks

What happens if you’re in a funeral procession an involved in an accident? In a recent Ashland, Kentucky, case, a plaintiff unsuccessfully argued that the funeral home was at fault for the accident. The case is Christian v. Steen Funeral Home.

The accident involved a man who was a passenger in a private car that was participating in a funeral procession. The car he was in collided with another vehicle at an intersection. According to the injured man, the crash occurred because the funeral home that organized the procession failed to clearly mark the vehicles involved in the procession with flags or other markers.

Following the collision, the injured man filed a negligence lawsuit in Lawrence County Circuit Court against both drivers and the funeral home. He also accused the funeral home of negligence per se.

In response, the funeral home filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. The funeral home argued that the man failed to state a cause of action, and that the funeral home did not owe him a duty of care under Kentucky Revised Statutes Section 189.378. Under Kentucky law, vehicles involved in a funeral procession do not have to be marked with any sort of special flag or other marking.

The man countered by claiming the funeral home owed him a duty of reasonable care, and the company breached that duty when it failed to require the driver of the vehicle in which he was riding to turn on his headlights or otherwise indicate the vehicle’s participation in the procession.

The circuit court agreed with the funeral home and held that the law does not impose a statutory duty on a funeral home that would support liability for the injured man’s harm. In addition, the court found that common law negligence did not occur, since the law at issue was created by the Kentucky Legislature. Because of this, the lower court dismissed the man’s lawsuit. The hurt passenger then filed an appeal with the Kentucky Court of Appeals.

On appeal, the injured man claimed the circuit court committed error when it dismissed his case against the funeral home. The funeral home countered that, although a funeral procession was formed, it did not violate the requirements set forth in Section 189.378.

The Kentucky Court of Appeals first discussed the elements required to prove common law negligence:  duty, breach, an injury that directly resulted from the breach, and actual damages. Next, the court stated negligence per se occurs when a defendant violates a duty of care that was established by statute, and the individual who was hurt as a result is among the class of persons the law was designed to protect.

After analyzing the statute cited in the lawsuit, the appeals court stated the law does not impose a duty on a funeral home. Instead, the court stated that the statute places a duty on the driver of a vehicle that is participating in a funeral procession to exercise due caution. The court also stated the statute was created to regulate the conduct of drivers who are participating in or who encounter a funeral procession. Since the Kentucky Court of Appeals determined that the funeral home could not have committed negligence per se, it moved on to address the issue of common law negligence.

The appeals court said the Commonwealth does not recognize a general “universal duty of care” and held that an additional duty on the part of a funeral home could not be extrapolated from the statute at issue. Because of this, the Court of Appeals of Kentucky found that the circuit court’s dismissal of the injured man’s claims against the funeral home was proper.

If you were hurt in an automobile crash anywhere in Kentucky, you should have a knowledgeable Kentucky motor vehicle collision attorney on your side to help you protect your rights. To discuss your car accident case with a lawyer, please call English, Lucas, Priest & Owsley, LLP at (270) 781-6500 or contact us online.

Additional Resources:

Christian v. Steen Funeral Home, Kentucky Court of Appeals 2014

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