The parents of a 2-year-old boy who was crushed to death by a headstone at a funeral last week have filed a lawsuit against the Pearland cemetery.
Giovanni Rodriguez died Dec. 13 when police say a group of children may have been playing on the headstones at the Southpark Funeral Home-Cemetery-Crematory at 1310 North Main in Pearland. The lawsuit alleges the funeral home operator was negligent for not making sure the headstones were more stable.
"Giovanni died shortly before turning three," said John Padilla, the Houston lawyer representing the parents. "To me, it's intuitive. You shouldn't have these headstones around loose."
Padilla said his clients were too distraught to talk about their son's death Friday. He said parents Francisco Rodriguez Cardenas and Maria De Los Angeles Yanez Laura filed the lawsuit Tuesday so the court could make sure evidence was not altered at the cemetery.
"We feel strongly the evidence will show there were numerous other headstones there not affixed to a base. Loose headstones pose an extreme risk to children, older people, even praying people who could reach up and touch one," Padilla said.
John Shipp, the Dallas-based lawyer for the Southpark funeral home and cemetery, said his client works to provide caring, quality service. "We're deeply saddened by this tragic accident and offer the family our sincere condolences," Shipp said on behalf of Southpark, which is a part of Stewart Enterprises Inc.
Shipp would not comment specifically on the death since a lawsuit is pending.
Patty Goolsby, of the Pearland Police Department, said emergency crews were dispatched to the cemetery after receiving a 911 call. Goolsby said the family was at a funeral service and "kids were jumping around on" the headstones nearby.
But Padilla said he has no evidence kids were playing on the headstones. He said the boy did not die at the cemetery, but later from injuries sustained there.
Padilla said he filed the lawsuit under a Texas law which requires reasonable care be taken to make a premises safe. But he said, the United Kingdom and some other European countries have separate laws addressing headstone safety though he didn't find anything like that in the United States.
Donald Burger, a Houston lawyer who lectures on Texas cemetery law, said the state has many regulations about health and safety at cemeteries. "Some are even bizarre like that you can't bury a murderer near his victim if you have notice. But I have not come across cases on headstone liability in Texas," Burger said.
Bob Fells, general counsel for the Virginia-based International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association, said he has seen a few cases involving children harmed by headstones in his 25 years with the group.
He said American privately-owned cemeteries generally have insurance and know that checking headstone stability is part of maintenance. He said cases like this may be won or lost based on the maintenance record and habits of the cemetery involved.
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