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Family files $60 million lawsuit after funeral home mix-up leads to wrong man buried on Long Island

Long Island-born sisters blame funeral homes for burial mix-up
Long Island-born sisters blame funeral homes for burial mix-up 02:29

LINDENHURST, N.Y. -- Long Island-born sisters are blaming two funeral homes for a mix-up that ended with the wrong person buried in their family plot.

After their father died in South Carolina, his body was supposed to be shipped to New York. But as CBS New York found out Wednesday, the wrong man was sent and then buried in their father's favorite clothes.

It was hard enough to say goodbye to 72-year-old Clifford Zaner, who died of heart failure in February. But when his daughter took one last time at him before burial, she was shocked.

"'Where is his facial hair?' and the funeral director said it's standard practice that we shave everybody," Stacy Holzman said.

An autopsy scar across his forehead also didn't make sense, because no autopsy was done.

"Again, the funeral director is dismissing it, saying, 'Oh, it's standard for if somebody passes in a hospital,' and I'm like, 'No, this isn't right, I don't recognize him,'" Holzman said.

The family says Star of David Chapel in West Babylon, which received the body from Fletcher Funeral Service in South Carolina, insisted it was Zaner and the funeral proceeded.

Weeks later, Fletcher confirmed an unthinkable mix-up. It had sent the wrong man's body and dressed him in Zaner's burial clothes.

"His favorite band was Led Zeppelin and he had his favorite shirt," daughter Megan Zaner said. "I do know this other man is buried in his favorite shirt. I just don't know how what system was not in place. How is this not triple checked?" Megan Zaner added.

Their attorney, Philip Rizzuto, said the South Carolina funeral home admitted its mistake and apologized. But Star of David insists it did not make an error, saying, "We deeply regret any sorrow experienced by the family for the mistake made by the funeral home in South Carolina. After the family confirmed the identification of the deceased at the cemetery, the burial proceeded. When the funeral home in South Carolina notified us of their mistake, we took swift and decisive action to contact the family and offer whatever services needed to lessen their grief.

"Families are under a great deal of stress when they identify their deceased. We are reviewing all our protocols and will make any recommended changes to ensure the correct identification of family members. We are committed to continuing to provide the highest level of compassion and care to families who have entrusted us with their loved ones."

The family is hoping a $60 million lawsuit will send a message.

"The whole case is insane on many levels. First of all, I don't know how the funeral home in South Carolina can mix up the bodies. But, to me, the worst part (is) the mistake was pointed out and the clients were dismissed and lied to. It's unconscionable," Rizzuto said.

"Fix their procedures, so this doesn't happen to anybody else," Holzman said.

And still unanswered is the identity of the stranger buried in the Zaner plot. The family said it has not been informed and cannot bring themselves to visit their other loved ones there.

The daughters had to endure a second funeral, burying their father without his Led Zeppelin t-shirt, elsewhere.

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