Missing corpses and mortuary insurance

 Speaking with a medical doctor friend a few years ago during which he indicated his contemplation on having an insurance policy for his privately operated morgue and its contents, some of the recent developments were discussed extensively.

Ordinarily, he thought the cover could only be limited to the physical structure and other installations (for instance cold room equipment, furnishing, etc.), without the cadavers, as in his own words, “you cannot put value on a dead man” even though he conceded to the fact that they are not permitted to accept certain bodies such as those of unidentified accident victims, among others.

I posed a ‘light’ giggle and he was very much infected and laughed out in extreme hilarity! As usual, I painstakingly explained to him the concept, the need, features, benefits, exclusions and several other social connections that should make him consider insuring the facility and its contents.

Indeed, I surmised that the day his facility would mistakenly give out the wrong corpse to the wrong family that he may appreciate the real and unquantifiable value of a dead body.

Calls by the family of the late Thomas Sankara, ex-Head of State of Burkina Faso, for the exhumation of his body for reburial at a family preferred location, truly gave me a better understanding of how relations value their dead.

Moreover, in Ghana, there is growing proliferation and patronage of funeral homes or mortuaries by most average to affluent families, in order to make adequate time and offer their dead a befitting farewell!

A Real Scenario

The Palm Beach New Times reported that Judy Rodrigo, filed a suit against State Farms that “another unit owner’s dead body had exploded; thereby causing blood and bodily fluids to go into the adjoining condominium,” which she owned.

She wanted her insurers to reimburse her with damage exceeding $15,000 out of her personal property damage coverage. Rodrigo claimed that she had to replace many items in her unit, and even with all the work, the stench lingered.

She reportedly turned down an initial offer by the company shortly after the 2008 issue. The report also indicated that the corpse went missing for weeks, but was later found by the building maintenance men.

In the ruling, the court reportedly stated, “The plain meaning of the term ‘explosion’ does not include a decomposing body’s cells explosively expanding and causing leakage of bodily fluids.”The court further ruled that property insurance does not cover cleanup if a human corpse explodes and leaks fluids into another apartment. (www.dailymail.co.uk, April 2014).

Why Insurable

This type of policy could be linked to property insurance and liability to third parties. In our part of the world, where morgues are close to human habitats coupled with unreliable power supplies, chances are that bodies have the potential of decomposing, leaking fluids and emitting odours that could not easily be borne or contained by neighbouring residents.

In this regard, a morgue owner may insure the property and its contents, against such third party liabilities, since he or she could be sued for environmental pollution, in damages for the ‘mix-up of ‘very important corpses’, unless of course the affected family decides to ‘let go’.

For instance, imagine the potentially dire consequences and possible socio-cultural challenges, if a prominent paramount chief’s corpse was mistakenly given out to a different family for burial and the actual royal family discovers this later when the body was due for burial!

Advice to Funeral Homes

Funeral homes, morgue owners, be they state or private, must endeavour to not only take insurance covers for morgues and installations, but also the cadavers housed in their facilities, as they could be held accountable for not only missing corpses but also, any decomposing elements emitting uncomfortable stench to their neighbours and in-patients (in the case of hospitals).

In fact, even the corpses of mentally challenged persons mean so much to their families. Indeed, the recent spate of fire outbreaks also lends credence to the need to protect both a morgue facility and its contents (including its core contents – corpses).

Advice to Insurers

On a rather lighter note, the public must appreciate that even though a dead cow fears no knife, the carcass could still be insured! In fact, even cigarette could be insured against fire, provided the client is ready to pay a rate of 100 per cent premium on the value of the cigarette.

Besides providing appropriate education to morgue owners and encouraging them to take out covers for their facilities and their contents, insurers must uphold high underwriting standards, in such cases, to ensure that the appropriate premiums are charged.

Advice to Funeral Homes

Funeral homes, morgue owners, be they state or private, must endeavour to not only take insurance covers for morgues and installations, but also the cadavers housed in their facilities, as they could be held accountable for not only missing corpses, but also, any decomposing elements emitting uncomfortable stench to their neighbours and in-patients (in the case of hospitals).

In fact, even the corpses of mentally challenged persons mean so much to their families. Indeed, the recent spate of fire outbreaks also lends credence to the need to protect both a morgue facility and its contents (including its core contents – corpses).

Advice to Insurers

On a rather lighter note, the public must appreciate that even though a dead cow fears no knife, the carcass could still be insured! In fact, even cigarette could be insured against fire, provided the client is ready to pay a rate of 100 per cent premium on the value of the cigarette.

Besides providing appropriate education to morgue owners and encouraging them to take out covers for their facilities and their contents, insurers must uphold high underwriting standards, in such cases, to ensure that the appropriate premiums are charged.


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