- Associated Press - Monday, May 19, 2014

LOS ANGELES (AP) - A plaintiff in a successful class action lawsuit against a Los Angeles cemetery accused of dumping bodies is crying foul over lawyers’ fees that topped $23 million.

After the lawyers get their money there won’t be enough of the $35 million settlement left for the thousands of family members involved in the lawsuit against Eden Memorial Park, Joseph Naiman said last week in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom.

Owners of Eden Memorial Park agreed to a settlement in February in the midst of a jury trial, and a Superior Court judge granted preliminary approval.

The lawsuit accused the cemetery in Woodland Hills of damaging burial containers to maximize profits.

Naiman, whose mother was buried at Eden Park, spoke against finalizing the settlement that could affect 25,000 family members because it directs $23.5 million to the attorneys who filed the lawsuit. The amount each family gets will depend on how many claims are filed - 5,000 have been submitted so far.

“They can call it whatever they want - call it a windfall - but I believe it should be a windfall for the class and not the attorneys,” said Naiman, 28.

He contested the nearly 28,000 hours of work attorneys said had been put in on the case as well as their billing rates that ranged from $600 to $885 an hour, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday (https://lat.ms/1ne0a0J ).

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Daniel Buckley praised the attorneys on both sides before finalizing the settlement on Thursday.

“I recognize that when you come from outside the legal profession that some of the hourly rates make you sit up a little bit,” Buckley said. “Knowing about the risk, let alone the issues in this case, a multiplier higher than what was used would have been reasonable.”

An attorney for the cemetery’s owner, Houston-based Service Corporation International, said the company continues to deny any liability, but that the settlement was reasonable and fair.

The Eden lawsuit, filed in 2009, claimed that for about 25 years, management at the Jewish cemetery ordered employees to make new graves fit “even if it required breaking outer burial containers in adjacent graves,” according to the settlement notice.

Groundskeepers testified that on hundreds of occasions, they broke into adjacent vaults and discarded remains.

The settlement involves about 25,000 families. It sets up a $35.25 million reimbursement fund for people who want to remove their loved ones from the cemetery or bought services such as prepaid gravesites.

SCI also agreed to pay $250,000 to notify people of the settlement, and it will make changes to correct problems and prevent future misconduct that could cost it an additional $45 million, including loss of future business.


Information from: Los Angeles Times, https://www.latimes.com



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