Coffin opens after NYC cemetery workers try to force it in too-small grave: suit

Horrified mourners watched as workers at a Brooklyn cemetery tried to force a coffin into a grave that was dug too small, a new lawsuit claims.

The coffin carrying the remains of 79-year-old Claribel Oppenheimer got stuck in the grave and popped open as workers struggled to shake it free during the somber burial-turned-tragic farce on June 24 at The Evergreens Cemetery, according to the lawsuit.

When family and friends looked inside the damaged coffin, Oppenheimer’s hands were no longer folded as they had been in the funeral home because of “rough handling,” the lawsuit alleges.

“I believe that the cemetery is in the business of burying people and I think the most basic thing they do every day is dig holes,” Eric Rothstein, an attorney for the Oppenheimer’s children Jose Semidey and Awilda Rivera, told The Post on Tuesday.

“How something like this happens is beyond me.”

The lawsuit, recently filed in state Supreme Court in the Bronx, claims that there were 35 mourners at the cemetery who said their final prayers for Oppenheimer and placed roses on the coffin then watched as workers tried to lower the box into its final resting place.

The sound of the coffin scraping the sides of the hole “filled the air,” according to the lawsuit – and workers “pushed, lifted and lowered the coffin over and over to try to get into the ground.”

When the coffin got stuck, workers tried pulling it — growing more aggressive and arguing among themselves as the process dragged on, the lawsuit stated. They kept “pulling and tugging” even after the top opened and mourners feared Oppenheimer’s body would fall out, the lawsuit said.

Employees were allegedly “pulling and tugging” Claribel Oppenheimer's casket after struggling to bury it, according to the lawsuit.
Workers were allegedly “pulling and tugging” the casket, according to the lawsuit.
Rothstein Law

Some members of the family watched, crying, according to the suit.

Workers moved the coffin to the grass for an hour while a backhoe was brought on to lengthen the grave, the lawsuit stated. Family members claim workers “yelled to move out of the way.”

Rothstein told The Post the treatment added insult to injury for the family.

“It’s just one more piece of an already horrific situation,” he said.

No one should have to endure a situation like that at a funeral, he added.

“It meant more grief, mental anguish that no one should have to suffer,” Rothstein said.

After some arguing over the condition of the coffin, the body was transferred to a new coffin at a nearby funeral home and finally lowered to its final resting place — headfirst rather than horizontally, the suit claims.

With the heat outside, one person was treated for chest pain during the ordeal which lasted four hours in total, according to the lawsuit.

One worker allegedly told the family “this section of the cemetery has had this problem before with coffins not fitting properly into the graves.”

A spokesperson from the cemetery didn’t respond to an interview request from The Post.

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