Suit Faults Morticians in AIDS Case
PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ An Upper Darby funeral director who had helped members of the a family bury their dead for years said Wednesday he was shocked to learn he was being sued for AIDS discrimination.
Anthony Vraim and his father, John, face a lawsuit filed by John Metrokas’ sister and his longtime companion accusing the funeral home of abusing the corpse and refusing to provide undertaking services because John Metrokas died of AIDS.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, alleges that a Vraim representative called Metrokas’ family just hours after his death and demanded that relatives remove his body from the premises. Another funeral home removed the corpse.
″This blind-sided me,″ Tony Vraim said. He said he learned of the suit Tuesday through the media and has not yet seen a copy.
″The charges are unfair, unjust and totally without merit. We have done AIDS funerals in the past and will continue to do so,″ he said.
Vraim’s attorney, Joseph Selfridge, said he was considering a countersuit against the family. He said the funeral home has buried at least four AIDS victims and has had an AIDS policy for the past five years.
Vraim said he was particularly upset by the charges because he has known the family for many years, both professionally as a funeral director and personally as a friend of Metrokas’ nephews.
But the dead man’s family was equally upset by what they said was abuse and discrimination.
″I feel he was mistreated,″ said the sister, Connie Katevatis of Chadds Ford. ″I feel my brother wasn’t allowed to die with dignity.″
Metrokas’ executor and companion of 20 years, Ricardo Andreoli of Philadelphia, joined in the suit.
The suit asserts that the funeral home was ″grossly negligent″ in its treatment of Metrokas’ body and breached its contract in refusing to embalm and prepare the body.
The suit also says Vraim violated state law assuring confidentiality for AIDS patients, as an unidentified worker from Vraim disclosed the cause of his death at a party.
A complaint was also filed with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, asserting the funeral home violated state law barring discrimination against people with handicaps.
Judith M. Wohl, an attorney working with the AIDS Law Project who helped file the suit, said she would seek a jury trial and compensatory and punitive damages.
″This is a very disturbing case which demonstrates the deplorable way people with AIDS are treated. This kind of discrimination and mistreatment is a serious violation of the law and cannot be tolerated,″ Ms. Wohl said.
Ms. Wohl said that Metrokas, 68, died of complications from AIDS on May 26 at Abington Memorial Hospital. A representative of Vraim Funeral Home picked up the body, which was accompanied by a death certificate listing AIDS as the cause of death, she said.
Three hours later, a Vraim employee called the family, demanding the removal of the body, she said.
Metrokas’ sister said the caller was angry that workers had started the embalming without knowing the cause of death.
″He said, ’I really just want him out of here,‴ Ms. Katevatis said.
Later that night, employees of a Philadelphia funeral home picked up the body and discovered a large, discolored indentation on Metrokas’ head and his left foot apparently broken, according to Ms. Wohl. Both abuses had occurred after Metrokas’ body left the hospital, she said.
Vraim said that the first he heard that the family felt there was a problem with the embalming was when the other funeral director called to tell him he would handle the burial.