ORANGE COUNTY (KABC) -- An Orange County family buried whom they thought was their loved one, but found out days later that he was still alive and it may have been a coroner mix-up.
Frank Kerrigan never wanted to outlive one of his children. But last month, he experienced his greatest fear. It involved his son, Frank, who suffers from a mental illness and chooses to be homeless.
The 57-year-old's family always checked up on him and saw him periodically. But on May 6, a phone call from the Orange County coroner was one they'd never forget.
They said Frank was found dead next to a Verizon Wireless store in Fountain Valley. His body had already been identified on a death certificate.
"He said through his fingerprints. You know, that's it. My son was gone," Frank Kerrigan said.
Carol Meikle, Frank's sister, said she went to the store where Frank was found and began crying and praying.
The autopsy report detailed that he died from an enlarged heart and fluid in his lungs. The family only saw the body days before the funeral and they said he was tough to recognize.
People from all over came to honor Frank's life.
"We were putting an end to his life in the most beautiful way that we knew how to," Meikle said.
But 11 days after the family buried Frank at a cemetery in Orange, his father received a call from a friend saying Frank was still alive.
"I went to my knees. I mean this is not...it's just not normal," Meikle said.
The family, who is still in shock, want to know how this whole thing happened. They hired attorneys Douglas and Brian Easton, of Easton & Easton, LLP, to file a claim alleging the coroner was negligent.
In the claim, the family also alleges no fingerprint match came back and that the identification was made off an old DMV photo.
"The people that we put in place to handle things, when they make these kind of mistakes, they have to be held accountable," attorney W. Douglas Easton said.
Attorney Brian Easton said the family paid $20,000 to bury someone who wasn't even their own family member.
A spokesperson for the Orange County Sheriff-Coroner's Office said they could not comment because of an ongoing investigation.
The claim, which will be filed next week, also alleges Frank was treated differently because he was a mentally ill homeless person.
"He was not given the dignity and the due-diligence in the process that a normal citizen of Orange County would get," Meikle said.
The family is grateful Frank is alive, but said nothing can fix what they've gone through.
Lawyers for the Kerrigan family said the body that was buried was identified. But they do not know if the family of that person has been notified.
The coroner would not comment.
The county has six months to respond to the claim. If they reject it, the lawsuit will be filed.