Dead Men Do Tell Tales…But You Have To Find Them First!

For those of you looking for an interesting research problem, how about finding a statute relating to the duty of cemeteries to keep records about where bodies are buried (e.g., North Carolina General Statute § 65-60)? Now, let’s assume we have some plaintiffs who are miffed that their dearly departed loved one isn’t buried where he or she had planned (you can create facts as to how they know that grandma isn’t where they think she is). Plaintiffs now want to sue. Therefore, Plaintiffs argue negligence per se because there is a statute that states a cemetery has a duty to keep track of where bodies are buried. If a cemetery is not fulfilling this duty, it may be committing negligence per se (and perhaps also negligent infliction of emotional distress is at play too). The cemetery argues that this is not the kind of statute the negligence per se doctrine is designed to cover. However, a great way to find a statute and cases relating to this issue is to use secondary sources. For example, if you’re in a state lucky enough to actually have legislative history materials, you can use those resources in an attempt to answer your question.

Sound off the wall? Well, an attorney stopped by the library today to research these facts. He was looking for the legislative history relating to the above statute. After driving 1.5 hours to our library, he was dismayed to learn that committee reports for state legislation from the 1970s live only, if they live at all, at the North Carolina Legislative Library in Raleigh (and this may very well be true for your state as well). However, he was delighted to learn that a treatise on North Carolina tort law and Strong’s North Carolina Index (the North Carolina legal encyclopedia) has helpful information to assist one in moving forward with a claim. The moral of this story is secondary sources are your friends.

As a side note, I’ll be blogging from the SEAALL annual meeting in Athens, Georgia later in the week. Stay tuned!

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