The Perverse Incentives the Bottom Line Imposes on Funeral Homes, Cemeteries, and Mausoleums
When one lives a life of dignity and integrity, their death and burial deserve the same. Many funeral homes and cemeteries are owned by large national corporations and in fact, many are publicly traded on the stock markets. Many times, the owners and operators of these funeral homes are more concerned with profitability and boosting the bottom line of shareholders rather than with the proper dignity, integrity, and respect expected at a funeral and burial. Elevating dollars and cents over the respectful and dignified handling of those who have passed is completely unacceptable conduct and offends a basic sense of human decency.
Funeral homes and cemeteries have many different price points and the purchase of such services often comes at a time of incredible grief and pressure for surviving family members. Unfortunately, many funeral homes, cemeteries, or crematoriums act dishonorably in an effort to boost profitability and engage in unethical and incompetent practices. With so much grief and emotional upset surrounding the loss of a loved one, the last thing you want to have to worry about when making proper arrangements for the final burial or disposition is a funeral home operator or cemetery owner or operator misplacing your trust which can lead to even more emotional damage. But if it does occur, it is important that you report it and work with an experienced attorney both to protect the memory of your departed loved and to prevent this from happening again.
Failure to Make Disclosures as Required By FTC Funeral Rule
Since 1984, funeral homes have been required by the FTC to make certain disclosures to grieving families. These disclosures are intended and designed to protect grieving and emotional families from predatory tactics employed by some unscrupulous funeral homes. Under the FTC rules, funeral homes are required to provide individuals with a general price list at the outset of a conversation regarding funeral services. Further, before a funeral home is permitted to display caskets, burial containers, grave liners, or vaults a price list must be provided for each. Additional requirements prohibit funeral home from requiring the purchase of any funeral item. That is, the purchase of a casket cannot be a precondition for the use of the funeral home nor can a funeral home require the purchase of an urn before permitting the use of cremation services. Essentially the rules enable consumers to compare the prices of goods and services across the industry.
Despite the existence of these rules for more than 34 years, funeral homes continue to violate them and prey on vulnerable, grief-stricken families. A 2013 undercover investigation by the FTC revealed that at nearly 25% of the funeral homes inspected, the funeral home failed to make the required price disclosures. It is hard to believe that professional funeral homes would be unaware of these requirements. Rather it is another example of funeral homes putting their bottom-line and shareholder profit ahead of the families that place their loved one with and trust in the home. Such actions are not only wrong but they also inflict needless emotional harm on already grieving families – all to make a few extra dollars.
When the Unthinkable Happens After Your Loved One’s Passing
Unfortunately, the failure to make disclosures to consumers is only the beginning when it comes to funeral homes and taking advantage of the trust of grieving families. Just 3 months ago in February 2014, a guilty plea was entered by Lancaster County, Pennsylvania funeral director Benjamin Siar for over 80 counts of theft and fraud charges. The incident began when a grieving daughter called the police after Siar stopped responding to her calls. A search of the funeral home by police revealed shocking acts of abuse by Siar. They found four bodies at the home – one in a cooling unit, one in a cardboard box, and the remaining two out in the open – that was supposed to have been cremated by Siar, but never was. One of the bodies belonged to a 2-year old girl who was a homicide victim. Without proper care, the bodies had begun to decompose. In terms of financial damages, it is estimated that Siar stole more than $200,000 from 38 grieving families.
Siar was sentenced to 6-14 years in a Pennsylvania prison for the corpse abuse charges. He was subject to additional fines and penalties for the theft charges under the Pennsylvania Funeral Director law. However, even the punishments did not and cannot heal the emotional trauma caused by Siar. One of the victims of Siar’s actions, Pamela Erb, had lost her mother. Erb said, “[My mother] wanted us to get on with our lives, and now this happened. We haven’t been able to get on with our lives and we won’t for quite a while.”
It is clear no amount of money, compensation or punishment can un-do the wrongful actions by Siar. But perhaps the criminal penalties will deter other funeral directors from allowing greed to take precedence over the trust placed in them. And as for the compensation the victims are entitled to, it can perhaps be used to honor the life and memory of the abused.
Experienced Attorney Holds Funeral Homes Crematoriums and Mausoleums Accountable for Abuse
I hope that you never deal with an unscrupulous funeral home or cemetery that is more concerned with profit than honoring the memory of your loved one and providing them with their final resting place. No one should have to deal with being taken advantage of in such an emotional state nor should they have to deal with the horror and emotional trauma that the abuse of a deceased loved one can cause. But if you do, I can protect the dignity of your loved one by working to hold greedy or malicious funeral directs accountable for the pain and suffering they cause. I know it won’t fix the emotional trauma that you have suffered, but it may prevent another family from having to go through the same pain.