Family sues New Jersey funeral home for $50 million after they put the WRONG body on display

Family sues New Jersey funeral home for $50 million after they put the WRONG body on display and then claimed she looked different because embalmers had ‘made her look younger’

  • The family of Kyung Ja Kim, 93, is suing a New Jersey funeral home for $50M
  • The funeral home placed the body of a woman bearing the same last name as Kyung Ja in her casket, despite the family saying her appearance was off
  • Funeral staff blamed the body’s ‘young appearance’ on the embalming process
  • Kyung Ja’s burial was interrupted as her casket was being laid in the ground
  • The family is suing for breach of contract, negligence, emotional distress, and battery as a result of the ‘outrageous and mishandling’ of Kyung Ja’s body
  • Any money won from the lawsuit will be donated to Kyung Ja’s church

A grieving family is suing a New Jersey funeral home that put the wrong body on display in their mother’s casket and blamed her differing appearance on the work of embalmers.

The family of Kyung Ja Kim, 93, claims another woman bearing the same last name was dressed in her clothing and placed in her casket after her death last November.

Kyung Ja’s daughter, Kummi Kim, said she instantly knew the woman inside the casket was not her mother because she was ‘so much younger looking,’ but funeral home officials insisted no mistake had been made.

It wasn’t until the casket was halfway into Kyung Ja’s grave that staff alerted the family the body of Whaja Kim, 70, had been placed inside the casket instead.

Kyung Ja’s family has filed a $50 million suit against the Central Funeral Home of New Jersey and Blackley Funeral Home and Cremation Services, Inc. of Ridgefield. 

The suit alleges the mixup was an act of ‘negligence’ and would’ve been avoidable had the funeral home properly tagged the bodies, per standard protocol.

The family of Kyung Ja Kim, 93, claims another woman bearing the same last name was dressed in her clothing and placed in her casket after her death last November. Kyung Ja is pictured at age 80

The family of Kyung Ja Kim, 93, claims another woman bearing the same last name was dressed in her clothing and placed in her casket after her death last November. Kyung Ja is pictured at age 80

Kyung Ja passed away in November 2021 and was expected to have a traditional Korean funeral at the Promise Church in Leonia, which her family said she helped establish.

Her body was taken to the funeral home three days before the memorial mass for preparations. When Kummi viewed the body ahead of the ceremony, she told the home it didn’t appear to be her mother. 

‘At the church when she opened the casket I told them this is not my mom she was so much younger looking,’ Kummi told ABC 7.

Funeral home director Haemin Gina Chong told her the ‘altered appearance’ was the result of the embalming process, which features heavy mortuary makeup, fake hair and filler such as Botox.

Chong ‘responded with a very clear expression of denial and dismay over the question as if Kummi did not appreciate a different appearance after death,’ the lawsuit stated.

The suit, which was reviewed by NJ.com, alleges the funeral home mixed up the bodies and placed Kyung Ja’s dentures under Whaja’s pillow.

It wasn't until the casket was halfway into Kyung Ja's grave that staff alerted the family the body of Whaja Kim, 70, had been placed inside the casket instead. The Kim family is pictured at what should have been Kyung Ja's burial

It wasn’t until the casket was halfway into Kyung Ja’s grave that staff alerted the family the body of Whaja Kim, 70, had been placed inside the casket instead. The Kim family is pictured at what should have been Kyung Ja’s burial

While Kyung Ja’s church service was underway, Chong texted Whaja’s daughter requesting multiple photos of her late mother. 

Following mass – as the funeral procession had begun – she called Kummi and offered to turn the processional around if she ‘wasn’t confident’ Kyung Ja’s body was in the casket.

Kummi was reportedly ‘confused and taken by surprise’ by Chong’s offer and told her to continue the procession to the cemetery, where the graveside service was held.

Kyung Ja’s loved ones had tossed shovels of dirt on to her casket and it was being lowered into the ground when Chong instructed the gravediggers to lift the casket back up and place it into the hearse.

‘Without saying another word she ran away from the cemetery right that minute,’ Kummi told the TV station. ‘People just saw me collapsing down. No one was really sure what was going and they figured it out when I collapsed.’

The lawsuit claims the scene at the cemetery left mourners feeling shocked, confused and ‘psychologically numb.’

Kyung Ja's daughter, Kummi Kim (pictured), said she instantly knew the woman inside the casket was not her mother because she was 'so much younger looking,' but funeral home officials insisted no mistake had been made

Kyung Ja’s daughter, Kummi Kim (pictured), said she instantly knew the woman inside the casket was not her mother because she was ‘so much younger looking,’ but funeral home officials insisted no mistake had been made

The funeral home offered to refund the $9,000 the Kim family paid for funeral expenses, but the family is seeking $50 million instead. Kyung Ja is pictured with her loved ones in an undated photo

The funeral home offered to refund the $9,000 the Kim family paid for funeral expenses, but the family is seeking $50 million instead. Kyung Ja is pictured with her loved ones in an undated photo

Later that day, Chong called the family explaining they had arranged an urgent service for Kyung Ja the next day. However, the Promise Church wasn’t available so the service would be held at the funeral home.

‘She said she’d prepare my mother soon and we’d have her that afternoon, but it was pouring rain so it had to be postponed to Sunday,’ Kummi said, explaining how not having a proper memorial has left her ridden with ‘guilt, shame and humiliation.’

Funeral home director Haemin Gina Chong told Kummi the ‘altered appearance’ was the result of the embalming process, which features heavy mortuary makeup, fake hair and filler such as Botox

Funeral home director Haemin Gina Chong told Kummi the ‘altered appearance’ was the result of the embalming process, which features heavy mortuary makeup, fake hair and filler such as Botox

‘We couldn’t have a real church service. No other friends or church members could come. It’s not her wish she wished everything could be done at the church and say goodbye the proper way to friends and church members.’ 

The family notes the botched memorial, their last memory of Kyung Ja, was a ‘stain’  that ‘now we cannot erase.’

‘My mother lived a long life and she wanted her funeral to be a celebration,’ Kummi said during a recent news conference. ‘Her last wish was that everything would be at the church, the proper way. So I feel very guilty that we couldn’t give her her final wish.’ 

Kummi, who spoke to Whaja’s family shortly after the ordeal, alleges the other family victimized by the mixup was also unable to have a proper goodbye.

‘They couldn’t do open casket for the other family, because she had already started to decay,’ she said. ‘We are really two victims. Not only my mom but the other victim.’ 

The lawsuit requests $50 million for breach of contract, negligence, emotional distress, and battery as a result of the 'outrageous and mishandling' of Kyung Ja's body. She is pictured with her family at her 88th birthday party

The lawsuit requests $50 million for breach of contract, negligence, emotional distress, and battery as a result of the ‘outrageous and mishandling’ of Kyung Ja’s body. She is pictured with her family at her 88th birthday party

Kim family attorney Michael Maggiano said the funeral home offered to refund the $9,000 the family paid for funeral expenses, but the family is seeking more.

The lawsuit requests $50 million for breach of contract, negligence, emotional distress, and battery as a result of the ‘outrageous and mishandling’ of Kyung Ja’s body.

‘This was a complete system failure at its very core. Was it negligence? Certainly,’ Maggiano said. ‘There should have been identification so you don’t confuse one Kim for another.’

The family says they are not looking for money, but rather change.

‘This kind of thing should never happen again,’ Kummi’s husband, Taichul Kim, said.

Any money won from the suit will be donated to Kyung Ja’s church in her honor. 

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