Three families have joined together in a lawsuit contending the Pine Knot Funeral Home, along with owner Debbie Campbell Murphy, acted improperly by allowing a reporter access to personal details of some of their clients and witness the embalming process – violating the families’ rights and allegedly casting the families in a false light.
The families of Betty L. West, Lois A. Maxwell and Jerry and Amanda Ridner, have filed a civil action in McCreary County Circuit Court asking for punitive and personal damages against the funeral home as a result of the actions surrounding an August 20, 2016 article appearing in the Washington Post.
The article, titled “Life lessons from a small town undertaker as White Women die younger in America” appeared in the print edition of the Washington Post as well as on-line. The on-line version was shared several times locally on social media sites.
The article was one of a four-part series examining a trend of middle -aged white women dying at a higher rate since the turn of the century.
The fourth story focused on McCreary County with the Post examining mortality rates locally and noting there had been a 75 percent increase in deaths for women aged 35-59 over the past 15 years. It also cited a study from the University of Washington that claimed McCreary County women are more likely to be obese and engage in what it called life-shortening behaviors.
The families behind the lawsuit claim the funeral home violated their privacy by disclosing details of the deaths of their loved ones to the reporter and caused them grief and suffering over what they allege were damaging remarks by funeral home staff, which cast a false light on the families of the deceased.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of all three families by the Carroll & Turner law firm of Monticello. Attorneys Brandon Baird, John Blevins and David Bridgeman are also acting on behalf of the families.
A legal response from attorney Susan Maines from the Casey, Bailey & Maines firm of Lexington denies the majority of the allegations of wrongdoing, citing First Amendment rights as well as claiming any damages were the result of the plaintiff’s actions and were not the responsibility of the funeral home.
The legal response asks for the Court to dismiss the complaint and to recoup costs from fighting the lawsuit.
The case is in the discovery phase and no court date has been set.