Last Updated ( Wednesday, 30 January 2008 00:31 )
The Missouri Attorney General has filed charges against seven monument companies and funeral homes, alleging the businesses took $800,000 from 500 citizens for goods and services never delivered. Just another reason to think twice about paying for your funeral before you're dead!
From the Kansas City Star, August 19, 2005 Missouri Headstone, Funeral Providers Sued
, The Kansas City Star
Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon has taken civil and criminal actions against seven merchants who sold cemetery headstones or pre-need funeral plans to consumers.
The charges, filed in circuit courts across the state, allege that about 500 Missourians paid more than $800,000 for services they didn’t get or that were less than promised.
Nixon filed four cases against monument companies, including one in Clay County, for headstones that weren’t delivered.
Nixon filed 10 felony counts of unlawful merchandising practices against Larry Keith Lawhon, who operates LL Monument Co. in Smithville. The charges in Clay County Circuit Court allege Lawhon’s business did not deliver headstones or provide refunds to consumers who paid thousands of dollars.
Neither Lawhon nor an official for his business were available for comment today. Nixon also filed civil charges against Heartland Monument Co. in Springfield and Jeffrey W. Thomure, of Manchester, who operates Standard Monument Co.
Nixon is seeking a civil injunction against Mike Graham and Associates, which operates Memorial Park Cemetery and Garden of Memories in Sikeston, Forest Hill Memorial Gardens in Morley, and Ozark Memorial Cemetery in Rolla. Nixon wants the company to refund $260,000 to more than 100 consumers.
Nixon filed three cases against pre-need funeral-plan companies — a $1.6 billion industry in Missouri.
“Consumers purchase pre-need funeral plans to have the assurance that these arrangements are paid for and taken care of ahead of time,” Nixon said.
He said in many cases payments were not put in required trust accounts, “but instead were diverted for other uses, leaving shortfalls to pay for the funerals when they are needed.”
Nixon criminally charged Jane Spencer Turner, who operates Spencer Funeral Homes in Salem and Bunker, and Donald E. Holt who operates Holt Funeral Home in Vandalia.
He filed a civil lawsuit against Eddie Swarnes of Swarnes Funeral Home in St. Louis.
To reach Paul Wenske, consumer affairs writer, call (816) 234-4454 or send e-mail to
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Summer, 2005 --- The Spring, 2005 issue of the FCA Newsletter carried an article (see article below this one) about five bills backed by the Tennesee State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors, and the Tennessee Funeral Directors Association. The bills purported to better regulate funeral homes and crematories, but in reality, they would have done little to protect the consumer and a lot to protect the mortuary business. The worst of these, Senate Bill 102, would have raised the requirements for running a funeral home so much that smaller operators with lower prices and less capital would have been put out of business.
Last Updated ( Tuesday, 04 December 2007 16:06 )
Last Updated ( Sunday, 24 August 2008 21:42 )
May 2, 2005
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
To download a .pdf file of the complaint, click here.
Funeral Consumers Alliance Files Class Action Lawsuit Against Funeral Conglomerates and Largest Casketmaker for Antitrust Violations
South Burlington, VT. - Funeral Consumers Alliance, Inc. (FCA), on behalf of its roughly 400,000 members and a nationwide class of consumers, has filed a lawsuit in federal court in California seeking to stop the country's three largest funeral homes chains and the nation's largest casketmaker from shutting out competition and fixing casket prices at artificially high levels. The suit has been filed against funeral conglomerates Service Corporation International, Alderwoods Group, Inc., Stewart Enterprises, Inc., and Batesville Casket Company. The suit seeks to prevent the defendants from boycotting independent casket discounters (ICDs), and from raising casket prices through price-fixing agreements.
Joining FCA in the suit are several individual consumer plaintiffs, who seek damages on behalf of all consumers who purchased Batesville caskets from the funeral home defendants.
"For years, funeral homes have conspired to artificially inflate casket prices," said Joshua Slocum, executive director of FCA. "We expect this lawsuit will put an end to these conspiracies, that it will bring free and fair competition to the casket market, and that consumers will be compensated for the damage this behavior has wrought."
FCA and the consumer plaintiffs allege the defendants and their co-conspirators have engaged in a group boycott to prevent ICDs from selling Batesville caskets and certain other brands. They also allege that as part of the boycott, the defendants have mounted a campaign of disparagement against ICDs and the caskets they sell. FCA believes this campaign has helped steer customers away from purchasing caskets from ICDs, and toward the artificially expensive Batesville brand of caskets the defendants sell. The plaintiffs further allege that the defendant funeral homes engaged in various forms of price coordination in further violation of state and federal competition laws. FCA alleges the defendants' conduct has suppressed competition in casket sales, which has cost families billions of dollars in overcharges.
If successful, the lawsuit will bring an end to these anti-competitive and anti-consumer practices so grieving families can enjoy substantially lower prices and greater choices for caskets. The lawsuit will also allow the consumer plaintiffs to recover the overcharges that consumers of Batesville caskets have been made to pay.
Constantine Cannon , an antitrust law firm with offices in New York and Washington, DC., is representing FCA and the consumer plaintiffs. The firm has extensive experience in antitrust litigation.
Funeral Consumers Alliance
FCA is the nation's oldest and largest funeral consumer education and advocacy organization. FCA comprises more than 100 affiliated consumer groups (often known as memorial societies) that provide families with information on funeral services and products. FCA groups have approximately 400,000 individual consumer members.
"Burial Only" . . ."Cremation Only"
Some funeral homes are wisely expanding their offerings to suit an increasingly choosy public. A certain segment, though, wants to have its cake and eat it too. These mortuaries offer choice in only one direction: up (in price). The latest incarnation of this is the shameful practice of applying a double standard to caskets. Here's a letter we received from a lady in Indiana:
I work in parish management and I am trying to develop some funeral alternatives for our parishioners. One of our parish families went to purchase a casket for burial and was told that they could not purchase a wooden cremation casket. There were forced to buy a "burial casket" that cost $1,500 [while] the cost of the cremation casket was $500. Was this legal? I know that there are air emission guidelines for cremation caskets but I did not think there were legal guidelines that would prevent the use of cremation caskets for burial.
This woman is more perceptive than many; she smelled something fishy. There are no laws anywhere in the country that prevent you from using a "cremation casket" for burial. We know of no laws anywhere that prescribe or prohibit any particular kind of casket for ground burial.
Most crematories, on the other hand, will not accept a metal casket because it can be difficult to burn, and it can cause damage to the retort (cremation chamber). If a family wants a casket (as opposed to a simple cardboard box) before cremation, most crematories require a casket of all-wood construction and a minimum of synthetic materials. The synthetic materials often used in "burial" caskets can release toxic gases as they melt, and can damage the crematory.
But there is no similar concern with cemeteries. It simply doesn't matter what type of box you use for burial. Why then would the funeral home tell this family they had to buy a "burial casket" just because the family wanted the body buried, not cremated? It seems to be greed, plain and simple, --- and here's where the double standard comes in. Funeral homes know that although some families will want to buy a more ornate casket even if there is to be a cremation, they'll balk at paying the grossly inflated "traditional" casket prices for a box "that will just get burned up anyway." So, the funeral homes stock a range of wood coffins suitable for cremation (many are quite attractive) and price them lower than they do their "burial caskets." Even though the mortuary may make a lower profit proportionally on these "cremation caskets," they're still making more money than they would if the family opted for a cheap cardboard "alternative container." But rest assured some funeral homes would have no qualms about selling you a $6,000 African Mahogany casket destined for cremation, and would probably compliment you on your "good taste."
The danger in offering these lower-priced caskets, from the undertaker's point of view, is that families just might buy them. And clearly, this family wanted to. Loath to lose the profit from a more costly "burial casket," the funeral home took advantage of this family by forcing them to buy a $1,500 casket under the false premise that only certain caskets are "suitable" for burial.
Our advice? If you wish to have a burial, and you see a casket that fits your taste and budget, insist on buying it. Let the funeral director know that you know there are no laws preventing you from using a "cremation casket" for burial, and that you don't intend to be put over a barrel. If the funeral director doesn't relent, tell him you'll find an outside casket seller. He can then choose between angering you and losing the casket sale completely, or treating your family with dignity and building good will for future business.