Louisiana Record

Thursday, September 19, 2019

St. Tammany Coroner sued for allegedly cremating man against family's wishes

By Jamie Kelly | Jun 1, 2016

NEW ORLEANS—A Florida woman who claims that the St. Tammany Parish Coroner’s Office cremated her deceased husband without her permission has sued the office in federal court for infliction of emotional distress and lost worker’s compensation, as well as to ensure such unauthorized cremations don’t happen again, according to her lawyer.

“One of the goals of (April) Woltmann in filing the suit is to prevent another family from having to go through the emotional upset and distress in having their loved one cremated when that was not what they wanted done,” her attorney, Kathryn T. Wiedorn of Pelleteri and Weidorn LLC, recently told the Louisiana Record.

April Woltmann's husband, Shawn Woltmann, died on Aug. 13 during a visit to Slidell and  the St. Tammany Parish Coroner’s Office took his body to perform an autopsy.

In her lawsuit, April Woltmann claims she told the coroner's office she needed to establish whether his death was related to injuries he had received years ago for which he was trying to get worker’s compensation benefits.

“He was severely injured in the accident and his injuries, included, but were not limited to, a serious leg injury that left him unable to walk for seven months,” the suit, which was filed May 18 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, said. “These injuries made him prone to other life-threatening medical conditions and he was placed on high levels of narcotic pain medication and other medication.”

Woltmann also claims that she told the office that if its autopsy was inconclusive, she would have a private autopsy performed. In October, a lawyer sent a check for $125 and signed medical release forms so that the family could obtain the autopsy report, the suit says. It goes on to claim that neither the family nor the lawyer received the report; and when April Woltmann called the office in November, she was told the office was still working on the report.

The initial filing doesn’t state when April Woltmann found out that her husband was cremated, but claims that the coroner’s office never contacted her to ask about the disposition of the body, nor to let her know the body had been released.

“The coroner's office is required by law to obtain the permission of the surviving spouse,” Weidorn said. “It is our position they did not take the proper or adequate steps to contact Mrs. Woltmann.”

In the suit, April Woltmann claims that not only did the cremation cause her mental anguish and emotional distress, it also deprived her of proper say in how her husband’s remains were handled and has prevented her from being able to determine if her husband’s death was related to his work accident.

In addition, she claims that the coroner’s office is withholding her husband’s remains and the autopsy report until she pays $300, which was the cost of the cremation.

Weidhorn said she has never handled a case involving unauthorized cremation before.

“I have not handled any other cases similar to this, so I cannot comment on whether or not it is a rare occurrence,” she said. “I certainly hope it is rare.”

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U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana