The Hat Case – Only in America

One other case, which always bears retelling, is that of Mr. Samuels' very first client, Barbara Hughes, a widow who sued a funeral home for stealing a hat. When Mr. Hughes died, his wife gave explicit instructions that he was to be buried in the clothes he was married in: western boots, belt, buckle and hat, and he was dressed that way during the open-casket ceremony. Unfortunately, the hat (which had to be cut in the back to make it fit) didn't quite make it to the grave. Mrs. Hughes was shocked to see someone else wearing it after the funeral.

After accusing the funeral home of grave-robbing, Mrs. Hughes contacted no less than ten lawyers, all of whom refused to take her case. Mr. Samuels sued the funeral home, alleging "Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress" and breach of the funeral contract. The funeral home refused settlement for $3,000 and the return of the hat, forcing the case to trial.

Arguing that funerals are more for the survivors than the deceased, Mr. Samuels asked the jurors to consider how they'd feel if this case had involved a child's funeral, and had the item removed from the casket been a favorite teddy bear. The Cowlitz County, Washington jury returned a verdict of $101,449.50.

*These are excellent results. No trial results can ever be guaranteed, as the outcome of any litigation and/or the amount recovered will vary according to the facts presented by individual cases. Past successes are not necessarily determinative of future results.

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