Delaware Today magazine: Tales From the Court, strange, bizarre cases from Delaware courtrooms
Delaware has hosted some of the most scandalous and salacious legal cases in the country. From Tom Capano to a pedophilic pediatrician, the state has had more than its share of headline-stealing court battles. While those tales garner most of the ink, the First State has featured a variety of other interesting litigations. Funny, embarrassing, intriguing or just plain odd, the following are some of the most interesting cases to grace the dockets in the past few years.
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Funeral Fit for a King
There is nothing funny about death, especially the death of a loved one. The immediate grief is exacerbated by the financial stress of arranging a service that does justice to the departed’s legacy.
When Sussex resident Ronald Harmon died from an on-the-job industrial accident, there was no question that his employer, Delaware Electric Cooperative, should cover some of the funeral expenses. The two parties just couldn’t agree on the amount.
The national average for a funeral is about $7,500, which can change depending on geography, religious needs or social status. But what happens in that gray area between social beacon and social pariah?
Harmon shared visions of his funeral with relatives before the accident. While his wishes might have been grand, he thought he’d earned them. He was a military veteran, active in the community, and served as an associate pastor at his church. He was a big fish in a small pond, so this service was going to be a whopper.
How big? It featured a six-disc DVD set commemorating his life, thousands of dollars in flowers highlighted by a $1,500 arrangement atop the casket, a limousine caravan between Seaford and Dover for his family, and the centerpiece—a stainless-steel engraved casket with a specially designed fiberglass vault to house it.
Grand total: $25,000.
Delaware Electric Co-op offered $3,500, the minimum for workplace death in Delaware.
With a disparity of more than $20,000, Harmon’s estate secured attorney Christopher Amalfitano of Ramunno & Ramunno, and appealed to the Delaware Industrial Accident Board for increased compensation.
It’s not unheard of for the board to award sizeable claims, but the price difference in this situation was larger than average, says Cassandra Roberts, an attorney with Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor in Wilmington, who sits on the National Workers’ Compensation Advisory Board.
“It was a workplace accident, and it’s not unheard for employers to offer tens of thousands of dollars,” she says. “Their argument was that since the person held an important position in the community, they were entitled to a grander funeral.”
It was obvious to the board that the employer should cover an increased share of the service, but the estate was unsuccessful in proving that the cost was, in the words of the court, “reasonable.” Last November, the board awarded an additional $11,500 to the family, raising the total compensation to $15,000. Neither side left completely pleased, but the ruling helped the family cover some costs.
With $10,000 in costs uncovered, it’s for the best that the family chose the components it did—not one of the more elaborate ones. Says Roberts: “The other casket would have been trimmed in copper and cost much more.”
case 4: Trouble in the Ladies' Room