An attorney urged a jury Thursday to award $2 million in damages to a Monterey Park woman who alleges the Los Angeles County coroner's office cremated her baby daughter's body in 2016 without notifying her beforehand, but a lawyer for the county said the plaintiff is primarily responsible for her damages and deserves little or nothing.
Yvette Diaz's daughter, Auroanne Delatorre, died at a hospital a day after her birth on May 27, 2016. The body was brought to the coroner the next day and cremated on Aug. 10, 2016, according to Diaz's Los Angeles Superior Court negligence lawsuit. Diaz is seeking $2 million as compensation for her past and future emotional distress, according to her attorney, Eseigbe Omofoma.
"This is something she'll never get over," Omofoma told a Los Angeles Superior Court jury in his final argument. "She's a fighter, we hope she'll get better."
Lawyer Jack Schuler, on behalf of the county, said he sympathized to an extent with Diaz for what she has endured.
"I'm the first to admit, this lady has gone through hell," Schuler said.
But Schuler told jurors that anyone in Diaz's position would have been checking every way possible to find out the status of the infant's body. He said Diaz deserves no damages, but that if the jury is declined to award any, they should apportion responsibility to Diaz at 90 percent.
Omofoma said the simple step of sending a registered letter to Diaz notifying her that she had to act within 30 days or the baby would be cremated would have kept the parties out of court. He said Diaz's acknowledgement that she received a letter from the coroner's office notifying her the cremation had already taken place was proof she wasn't totally withdrawn by her grief.
Omofoma said the county is 100 percent responsible for Diaz's damages because his client had no obligation to do anything until she was properly notified of the 30-day deadline. Schuler told jurors that a coroner investigator called Diaz in June 2016 to discuss the case.
He said that in addition, the head of the coroner's notification division called Diaz in July 2016 and left her a message, Omofoma said the voicemail was vague and did not even mention the word "cremation."
Schuler said that even if the coroner's employee had called Diaz numerous more times, the plaintiff admitted she had not been checking her telephone messages or reading her mail.
In her testimony, Diaz said she suffered severe emotional distress after her daughter's death and used her cell phone for limited purposes. She said she relied on her brother to tell her about what she received in the mail. Diaz said she has not tried to get her baby's ashes from the coroner's office, saying the facility is "filthy" and that the remains could be those of someone else.