A family in Tennessee is suing the quirky funeral home at the center of a Netflix reality television show after it said the facility mixed up the remains of their late mother last year.
R. Bernard Funeral Services — from the Netflix show “Buried by the Bernards” — is accused of giving the Velasquez family the cremated remains of another person following the death of Anita Velasquez on Feb. 18, 2021. The family said it made the discovery when it went to scatter her ashes and found identification tags belonging to another person inside the urn.
The lawsuit comes on the heels of a $7,475 civil fine imposed by the Tennessee Department of Insurance and Commerce for what the agency described as “unprofessional conduct.”
“We are determined to find the truth about what happened to the remains of Mrs. Velasquez and look forward to holding to account those entrusted with the handling of her cremation,” said David McLaughlin, who is representing the Velasquez family.
Representatives from R. Bernard Funeral Services directed a request for comment to their attorney, who did not immediately respond to McClatchy News’ request for comment on March 17.
The funeral home has otherwise denied the mix-up in interviews with other news outlets.
According to the lawsuit filed March 4 in the Circuit Court of Shelby County, Tennessee, the Velasquez family gave the body of Anita Velasqeuz to R. Bernard Funeral Services around 3 a.m. on Feb. 19, 2021.
The family opted to have her cremated, court documents state, and they picked up the remains on March 4, 2021.
Several months later, the Velasquez family reportedly traveled to Florida to scatter Anita Velasquez’s remains in the ocean on her birthday. But when the family opened the urn for the first time on July 19, several objects inside gave them pause.
According to the complaint, the objects included a silver metal tag bearing the numbers “450,” a portion of an identification tag with the name “Luz Acevedo” and a document linking the numbers to Luz Acevedo, who was cremated on Feb. 23, 2021.
The Velasquez family subsequently contacted the Acevedos, who reportedly told them the remains they had contained a silver metal tag with the numbers “462” but no name. Those ashes were divided among various members of the Acevedo family, the Velasquez’s lawyer said.
“When confronted with the potential switching of the remains of Anita Velasquez and ‘Luz Acevedo,’ the defendant attempted to ‘gaslight’ the plaintiffs and tell them that they were in possession of Anita Velasquez’s remains, knowing this to be false,” the lawsuit states.
The Velasquez family filed a complaint on July 27 with the state’s Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers, The Commercial Appeal reported, and the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance subsequently opened an investigation.
Randall Fishman, the lawyer representing R. Bernard Funeral Services, denied the allegations in a statement to the newspaper.
“Based on the way cremations are performed, we can assure (the Velasquez family) that these are the appropriate ashes, these are the right ashes,” he said, according to The Commercial Appeal.
The funeral home said it accidentally put another person’s papers inside Anita Velasquez’s urn but the cremated remains were correct, the newspaper reported. The funeral home also said it offered to reimburse the Velasquez family for the memorial service.
The Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance concluded its investigation in February, levying a $5,000 civil fine and $2,475 in costs against R. Bernard Funeral Services based on a finding that it “provided a metal identification tag in the urn to the family that differed from the name on a subsequently produced paper handwritten label,” according to a disciplinary action report.
The agency also said the funeral home “failed to treat members of the public in a respectful manner.”
R. Bernard Funeral Services was founded in 2017 by Ryan Bernard, who bought an old bank building and turned the drive-thru window into mobile visitation for grieving families, Good Housekeeping reported. He later appeared on “The Steve Harvey Show,” which led to the family being approached for a reality TV series on Netflix.
The first season of “Buried by the Bernards” was released last year and features Bernard, his two daughters, Deja and Raegan, his Uncle Kevin and his mother, Debbie Bernard.
Netflix describes the series as focusing on the “bickering but big-hearted Bernards” as they “manage their budget-friendly funeral home while helping grieving families say farewell.”