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Post office thinks twice

Local family battles post office over shredded death certificate

Posted: November 2, 2009 10:17 p.m.
Updated: November 3, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Widow Georgina Morris holds up her husband's shredded death certificate Monday. She received the document with a note from the Postal Service apologizing for the damage. Widow Georgina Morris holds up her husband's shredded death certificate Monday. She received the document with a note from the Postal Service apologizing for the damage.
Widow Georgina Morris holds up her husband's shredded death certificate Monday. She received the document with a note from the Postal Service apologizing for the damage.
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After Sand Canyon resident David Morris died earlier this year, his widow and son had hoped to take his ashes to rest in a small church in his native England.

But when his death certificate arrived in the mail earlier this month, it was shredded by a mail sorting machine. The mangled mess was wrapped in a plastic sleeve printed with the following: "We sincerely regret the damage to your mail item during handling by the Postal Service. We hope this incident didn't inconvenience you."

But it did.

Widow Georgina Morris and son James Morris needed the document to take David Morris' ashes back to Manchester, England. That trip has been put on hold, and the late husband and father's ashes are still without a final resting place.

And meanwhile, the Postal Service was refusing to pay the $72 it cost them to obtain the death certificate.

"It wasn't just the money, it was the principal," James Morris said. "They wrote a letter that said they were at fault, but they weren't willing to stand by their work."

On Monday, the post office finally gave in, despite its policy.

"We have a policy that if the item is not insured, we don't pay for any damage done to the mail," said Robert Swanson, Santa Clarita Valley Postmaster.

Fortunately for the Morris family, Swanson threw policy to the side and did what he called "the right thing."

"I'm not going to let that be the reason he's not going to have a good certificate on his dad," she said.

She felt Swanson's reversal was overdue.

"I think they should have done this a long time ago," Georgina Morris said in a heavy English accent.

The mutilated mail, containing David Morris's death certificate, arrived at the couple's Sand Canyon home in early October just weeks after his death.

"We had to have the death certificates and they all came back mashed," Georgina Morris said.

The envelope was slashed open and all six copies of David Morris' death certificate sported a gash down the center, which rendered the documents unusable.

When James Morris contacted the post office asking for a refund, he was initially told to forward his complaint to the sender, which, in this case, was the funeral home. The funeral home didn't repay James Morris and he felt the post office should reimburse him for its mistake.

The post office claimed improper packaging caused a paper jam in their mail sorter, which mutilated the letters.

"It was improperly packaged in a bag and got caught in one of our machines," Swanson said.

Postal officials said the sensitive documents should have been packaged in cardboard and in a package labeled "do not bend." The post office originally balked at a refund, but caved after the Morris family put up a fight.

"Why should we pay out of pocket again?" Georgina asked.

Though the post office will reimburse the Morris family, a spokesman emphasized this is an exception and not the rule.

"It's the mailer's responsibility to request a service that insures or provides document reconstruction for sensitive materials," said Rich Maher, Postal Service spokesman.

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