The FTC Funeral Rule - Sudden Boycott: A letter to the FTC

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Sudden Boycott: A letter to the FTC

August 8, 1997

Attorney Eugene Lipkowitz
Federal Trade Commission
150 Williams St.
NY, NY 10038

Dear Mr. Lipkowitz:

Thank you for your consultation on the telephone today. To recap our discussion I will list the details of my complaint.

Our company, Catskill Casket Co., Ltd. sells burial caskets, cremation urns, and burial vaults directly to the public. We began our business in April of 1996 as a casket distributor to funeral homes. We have for the past four months sold directly to the public. As I mentioned, we lost all of our funeral home accounts when we changed the focus of our business since they now view us as competitors.

Our troubles began in April when certain funeral homes tried to stop our factories from selling to us. Their message to the factories was "If you sell to Catskill Casket Co., Ltd. then we will make sure that no funeral home purchases your products." Of course, proof of this may be difficult, although possible. Nevertheless, we took a firm stand with the factories and they have agreed to continue to sell to us.

Recently we decided to sell burial vaults to the public. Our plan was to use the same vault companies that funeral homes use since there are very few vault companies and they tend to monopolize a territory. I mentioned Wilbert Vault Co. and Doric as the two main vault companies in the U.S.

On Sunday, July 27, we ordered a Monticello model burial vault with complete set up for a funeral for the Greenleaf family. The family had priced the vault through the funeral home who was going to charge them $995. We charged the family $699. Same vault, same vault company. Our markup, as with caskets, is less than funeral homes mark up. I told the funeral home (Bookhout Funeral Home, Oneonta, NY which is owned by the Hamilton Group) that the vault was all arranged through Keeler Vault Company.

On Tuesday, July 29, we received a call from the vault company, Keeler Vault Co., Inc. of Hudson, NY (a Wilbert Vault Co. franchisee) that he would no longer honor his agreement to deliver the vault because we were not a funeral home. I had clearly told him we were a casket company which sold to the public when I placed the order and his faxed agreement to Catskill Casket Co., Ltd. confirms this. He still insisted that he would not sell to us. We called our lawyer who advised us to call Mr. Keeler back and insist the agreement be honored. This time he told us that he would not honor the agreement since he had not received payment. We checked with the post office and the payment was in the system due to be delivered Wednesday morning. We offered to deliver payment in cash or certified check personally and immediately. We also offered to wire him the money or give him our credit card number. He still refused to honor his agreement and said that the deal was off.

When we pressed the issue, he became upset and said, "Don't put me in the middle of this!"

We called Doric Vault of Eastern NY in Claverack, Tim Keeler's competitor in the area, and they also refused to work with us stating that they would be boycotted by the funeral homes if they did.

We called two other Wilbert Vault franchisees that also refused to deal with us since we were not a funeral home. I called another vault company who previously had agreed to work with us, Chenango Valley Vault Company of Oxford, NY, but they have never returned our repeated calls.

We then called Wilbert Vault company's national headquarters. They stated that Wilbert Vault does not have a corporate policy which requires their franchisees to sell only to funeral homes. They state that they leave this decision to each franchisee. However, they were already aware of my current problem with Keeler Vault Co. Tim Keeler had called them earlier asking for advice about whether he could refuse to sell to us. They advised him that he had the right to choose his own customers.

At this point on Tuesday the Greenleaf family called us all upset. They stated that Bookhout Funeral Home had called them and told them that Catskill Casket Co., Ltd. was having trouble getting the burial vault. How they knew this, I don't know. Actually, I am sure that they knew because they initiated this whole problem. I told the family that I was handling this and for them not to worry.

I then received a telephone call from Wilbert Vault Company's lawyers from Chicago. They tried to harass me into backing down. I told them that I had an agreement with Keeler Vault and that if it was not honored that the family might sue us and we in turn would sue them. They said they had to confer and would get back to me.

After hitting many brick walls, I finally called Bookhout Funeral Home and told them I could not get a vault and asked them to arrange it. They told me to bring them a Catskill Casket Co., Ltd. check for $995. I did so. When I arrived at the funeral home, Wilbert Vault Company lawyers were talking to the funeral home and told them that they were donating the vault to the Greenleaf family.

At this point, we have lost two other vault sales because no one will sell to us. We are concerned about this restraint of trade and the power that the funeral homes and vault companies have over the market.

Please let us know if you are able to assist us further.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Joseph White
Vice-President
Catskill Casket. Co., Ltd.



Last Updated ( Monday, 25 August 2008 13:47 )  
Comments (21)
1 Sunday, 12 October 2008 16:36
I work for a local Hospice. We have a patient who will have her funeral and burial in Alabama, but she is currently living with her son in Michigan. Her son wants to know if he can transport the casket from Michigan to Alabama himself in his pick up truck. I would assume the answer is no, but I have not been able to find any information on this. He has a quote of $5000 to prepare the body and transport across the states. Thank you for your help. Juanita L. Signs, ACSW, LCSW, LMSW
2 Monday, 13 October 2008 07:54
Juanita,

I hope you know that you left a comment on the site, that you didn't write to us directly and provide an email address that we could write back to you with.

The family can transport the casket, but they'll have to get a funeral director's signature on the death cert. in Michigan. I can give you all the details, but it would be much easier in an email exchange with you. Please write to me directly at josh@funerals.org.

Josh Slocum
3 Wednesday, 05 August 2009 15:18
Rev. James Monk
I am writing from personal experience and from observations of funerals I have performed as a minister.
I rememeber my Grandmother spening over $10,000 dollars to bury her hysband years ago, because they talked to her alone and told her all kind of lies. She was a poor person of age. I have preached many funerals where I have seen families spend 5 and 6 times what was needed because the funeral home told them it was the only way to protect their love one from bad thing in the grave.
I know of funeral homes in Oakdale, louisiana and other towns around that will not use the cheaper wood or box funerals. I know of some that would refuse and transfer the body to another funeral home because they could not make the amont of money they wanted.
Something needs to be done in Louisiana to stop poor people from being taken advantage of in these ways. It breaks my heart to preach a funeral where I see how the family is treated so badly. I know they must make money, but not what they make today. They sell 6 or 8 thousand dollar funerals thet cost them less then $1200.00, this is terrible. If you can have any effect on Louisiana funeral homes please use every bit of your authority to do so.
4 Wednesday, 05 January 2011 13:48
Tim Trahan
I hold an embalmer/funeral director license in Louisiana, and have previously been licensed in Texas since 1992. I am no longer active in the funeral scam,...I mean business. The FTC's regulations regarding funeral homes are regularly circumvented in the most obvious ways. At David Funeral Homes in New Iberia and surrounding areas, customers are not charged more for providing a casket from outside the funeral home, but they are charged less for purchasing their casket from the funeral home. What's the difference?
Also, the owner of Warren Meadows Funeral Home in Many, LA makes a practice of telling customers that a casket made of copper or bronze (obviously more expensive) will preserve human remains longer than will steel or wood caskets. His one word explanation ("AIR") defies logic and all ethical concerns.
Until these firms are forced to stick to the letter and intent of the law, consumers will continue to be ripped off by unsound practices.
5 Thursday, 24 March 2011 20:38
shirley maulden
is there a federal law that says we must move to another state before we can receive a refund on the casket and vault, we are moving to another state and our cemetery people have told us we cant be re imbursed for these things until we move out of this state we need the finances now so we can move, could give me and answer on this soon we would like to move in July
6 Thursday, 24 March 2011 21:36
Josh Slocum, FCA exec. director
Hi Shirley,

There is no such federal law preventing you from getting a refund unless you move out of state. If you want to email me directly with the details (including your location, etc.), send it to josh@funerals.org and I'll try to help you work it out.
7 Sunday, 19 June 2011 11:41
Dianne
Josh - Do you know of any way to prepare or insure a loved one for return home after death? My grandmother is moving to Texas from Arkansas for her last years, but wants to be returned and buried next to my grandfather. Her expenses there are all pre-paid, but we're concerned about being able to take care of this aspect.

Thanks.
8 Thursday, 15 September 2011 11:44
FD USA
Now that the market is/has changed to cremation, will the FTC FORCE the funeral homes to accept urns to??? The funeral home is the one that bares the high overhead operating cost. This rule should go away!!!

FD USA
9 Thursday, 15 September 2011 22:30
Josh Slocum, Executive Director
Funeral homes already have to accept urns - the FTC Rule applies to all merchandise, not just caskets. I'd hate to think you didn't already know this, and that you've told families they have to buy an urn from you.
10 Monday, 23 July 2012 10:54
Maggie
I recently attended a funeral in Nebraska. We returned to the cemetery a couple hours after the burial. We found the grave still open and no one was at the cemetery. The vault was sealed, but no dirt had been filled in to cover the vault. We thought this was very disrectful? Was it also against the law? Is this a common practice?
11 Monday, 23 July 2012 11:26
Josh Slocum, FCA Exec. Director
Hi there,

No, there is no law that says a grave has to be immediately filled in. It's not uncommon for the job to wait a few hours as the cemetery staff may have other graves to fill in (they also could have been taking a break-I don't know what time of day it was). Since the vault lid was placed the casket wasn't exposed for anyone to see. I'm sorry that you found it upsetting, but it doesn't appear to me that anyone did anything negligent or wrong.
12 Wednesday, 05 September 2012 16:26
Vanessa
Can I be buried on my own rural land?
13 Friday, 07 September 2012 15:17
MMassey
If a party wants to be cremated, is it possible to rent a casket for viewing for one
day, and then the body be placed into a travel container to go to the
cremation location for handling. It seems like such a waste in this date and time to pay for a casket in the thousands that is suposed to be burned, I have my doubt that even happens. Do you have advise for this process, or laws that
protect the public from paying for a casket that could be returned to the
funernal palo for re-sale.
14 Friday, 07 September 2012 15:36
Josh Slocum, FCA Exec. Director
Yes, you can certainly rent a casket and then just use the cardboard box to transport to the crematory. Rental caskets are expensive, though, upwards of $900. A real rip off. It's often cheaper to go with the cardboard box and drape it with a lovely quilt or cloth.
15 Monday, 17 September 2012 13:36
That Guy
Sup
16 Friday, 02 May 2014 20:17
Curious
This nonagenarian wishes his minimum cost cremation/remains disposal be observed in case of death while travelling. Have DNR and POLST ID bracelet. Am prepared to prepay expenses if there is a national clearinghouse.
20140502 15:16HST
17 Friday, 20 June 2014 23:10
walter newsome
I want to be cremated and only have a coffee can as an urn, is this possible? I want a visitation and funeral(burying of the coffee can) to be done by my family and friends after cremation. Can anyone offer advice or resources? I have a burial policy, but I want most of that money to go to my family for a death celebration/vacation. Is there somewhere I can obtain the required forms (death registration, body disposal decree, etc) and all the steps to meet Alabama law so NOBODY gets the money except cremator.
18 Sunday, 22 June 2014 10:35
Josh Slocum, Exec. Director
Hi Walter,

You can absolutely do what you want. There are no laws governing urns, coffee cans, family-directed burials of urns, or celebrations.

For all the rule and laws in Alabama in plain English, including the forms you'd need, check out Final Rights, the book I co-wrote. If you want the Alabama chapter all by itself without buying the book (the book you can find in the library, too), see your bookstore on the horizontal menu at the top of funerals.org.
19 Thursday, 10 July 2014 11:59
Abby
Can some one put the casket in the back of a pickup truck and drive it to the grave site?
20 Tuesday, 16 September 2014 15:26
greg
can I transport my uncles body 600 miles? a FH in Louisiana want to charge $3200 to drive his body after he's been embalmed, what qualifies you to transport a dead body
21 Wednesday, 05 November 2014 16:40
Liz
I purchased my preneed property in 1997 which I thought was paid off. No mention at that time that additional costs would be pending or I would have paid it. I just found out that further expenses are expected by this memorial park in California. An additional $6,525.00 for using the chapel, flowers, etc. is expected. I paid in 1997 about $3,500 for the property. I thought the $3,500 was payment in full. I think the proper thing for this memorial park to do is give me the going rate in 1997 for the additional services. What do you think?

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