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Barbara Osborne Sues Batesville Casket

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The Jig Is Up

(The following is an excerpt from the casket chapter in "Caring for the Dead: Your Final Act of Love," available through the FCA bookstore.)
There is no amount of embalming or any particular casket that will preserve a body in a life-like condition forever. But perhaps history has to repeat itself several times before the industry will stop perpetrating such myths. One of the cases that Melvin Belli won early in his career resulted in a significant sum for a son whose mother rotted in the bronze sealer casket he'd purchased to protect her. Now a Mississippi funeral home and Batesville Casket Company are facing a multi-million dollar lawsuit charging similar casket fraud.

Barbara Osborne had no reservations about spending $4,000 for Daddy's "protective" copper casket. Two months later when she went to place flowers for Father's Day—the casket was "stinking to high heaven." Batesville took four months to respond. A video of the rotting flesh confirmed Barbara's worst fears.

"Protective," says the Batesville guarantee that Barbara was given. The Batesville website goes even further: "The urge to keep our loved ones protected and safe is fundamental to all of us. No wonder so many families are comforted by the ability to protect their loved ones with the Batesville Monoseal protective casket." It's going to keep out air, water, and other elements, we're told.

The dictionary definition of protection is "to keep from harm." Yes, the gasketed casket may keep out any bugs that didn't accidently get closed inside in the first place, but Batesville doesn't bother to reveal that—by keeping air out—a sealed casket (in anything but the most frigid weather) becomes a slow cooker that will turn the body into a smelly stew.

Some funeral directors are awakening to the problems presented by sealer caskets. One recently wrote to Mortuary Management (June '98): "Sealer caskets are in danger of being identified as an alleged consumer fraud that funeral service has been a party to for far too many years. . . . Funeral service should finally divorce itself from this emerging identity."

 


In 1988, the FTC charged Batesville with making false claims and misrepresentation. Read for yourself the FTC charge and the final consent agreement.
 

Pittsburgh Catholic Funerals

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Pittsburgh Catholic Funerals

Pennsylvania law states:

 

Funeral Director Law, PS 63: 479.2 . . . The term "funeral director" shall also mean a person who makes arrangements for funeral service and who sells funeral merchandise to the public incidental to such service or who makes financial arrangements for the rendering of such services and the sale of such merchandise.
It would appear that ONLY funeral directors may sell financing that is specific to your funeral plans.

 

The Pittsburgh diocese, however, announced a few months ago that it was setting up "The Catholic Funeral Plan" to promote with their own sales people. According to the functionaries I talked with there, the aim of the plan is to:

  • Spread the mission of mercy
  • Minister to the grieving
  • Protect the teachings of the church and liturgy.
At first blush, the insurance might sound like a good deal—transferrable, excess funds refundable to estate or family (not likely to happen given funeral inflation), and built-in "inflation-protection" for families. However, funeral inflation far exceeds general inflation, which is measured by the consumer price index (CPI). At the current low CPI rates, the so-called "inflation protection" isn't likely to kick in, EVEN IF FUNERAL INFLATION is rampant! (Is this inflation protection promise misleading?) Oh, yes, the 4% guaranteed rate of growth is probably no favor to consumers. You can get 5% or more with a CD in your local bank.

The poor in the Pittsburgh district who buy these policies may be at special risk. With the estate or family—not the funeral director—named as the beneficiary of the insurance policy, such a policy will likely be considered an asset for Medicaid purposes and may have to be cashed in before Medicaid will pick up any medical expenses. Cash value of any insurance policy is pennies on the dollar. (Two sons in New Jersey had already paid $7,000 on a $10,000 insurance policy to cover their mother's funeral. When she had a stroke and moved to a nursing home, they had to cash it in. What did they get back? $3,476!!)

Let's assume you've got plenty of money to spend for a funeral. How much funeral insurance will each Pittsburgh Catholic family need? The Catholic Funeral Plan (CFP) has invited local funeral directors to send over their General Price Lists (GPL) along with info on any package pricing the funeral home offers. Now why would CFP need price lists if it were selling just insurance, not funerals? It is this maneuver that sounds suspiciously as if CFP is making "financial arrangements for the rendering of such services," an activity restricted in Pennsylvania to funeral directors. Unless the CFP agents are duly licensed by the state as undertakers, it would seem that showing a specific funeral home price list prior to selling funeral insurance could land someone in jail for up to a year plus a $1,000 fine. And does that make the funeral director an accomplice—if using an unlicensed agent for marketing to his/her funeral clients?

But there are other consumer considerations. There will be enormous pressure on the family to choose a body-present-at-the-church type of funeral even though the Catholic church now accepts and offers memorial masses as well as funeral masses. The CFP spokesman, Matthew Cahalan, was quite definite that a funeral mass is "preferred." For a struggling family, it sounds as if it may be an uphill battle to get the CFP agent to cooperate with a lesser-cost funeral plan such as immediate cremation or burial. The fact that the agent gets a much larger commission when selling an expensive funeral insurance plan is an irresistable incentive to promote expensive funerals, and not meeting sales quotes could risk the loss of medical benefits.

After showing a family the GPL from any or all of the cooperating funeral homes, the CFP agent accepts full or partial payment for the insurance policy, then sends the family to the funeral home to write up the actual preneed agreement. (From a strictly practical point of view, how does one purchase a casket sight-unseen or know how much it will cost?)

Many Pittsburgh area funeral directors are up in arms. With an aggressive sales team that doesn't want to take "no" for an answer, the Catholic diocese will be foisting a funeral financing plan on its congregations, a plan that has some unfair-to-funeral-directors factors built in. What are the tenets that the local morticians must accept in order to get a referral from CFP?

  • As soon as a death occurs, the funeral director must put any Catholic family in touch with the church. [Not a big deal probably.]
  • The funeral director must agree to accept the proceeds of the policy as payment in full. [With funeral inflation running 5-7% a year and interest on the policy guaranteed at only 4%, who's stuck with the loss?]
  • The funeral director may not charge extra for driving the body to the church. [Why should the funeral director do this for free for the Catholics when all other customers may legitimately be charged for this service?]
That funeral directors are upset and saying so is evidenced by this letter from the lawyer for CFP:

 

Patrick T. Lanigan
Patrick T. Lanigan Funeral Home
700 Linden Avenue
East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15112

Re. The Catholic Funeral Plan

Dear Mr. Lanigan:

Remarks about the illegality of The Catholic Funeral Plan (the "Plan") and adverse consequences to funeral directors who choose to participate in the Plan have been attributed to you. You are hereby advised that we are legal representatives to the Plan in the area of compliance with the Pennsylvania Funeral Director Law, Federal Trade Commission Rule Regulating Funeral Industry Practices and other applicable federal and state laws, rules and regulations. ["Applicable"? I thought these laws and regulations applied to funeral directors, not insurance folks.] On the facts as we understand them, we believe, first, that you [sic] remarks are incorrect and, second, that your conduct is actionable on the grounds of tortious interference with contractual relations, trade slander/libel, restraint of trade and promotion of secondary boycotting.

You are well aware of your remarks to funeral directors and others involved directly or indirectly with the Plan that give rise to these causes of action. If you do not cease and desist from making these remarks, we will institute suit against you and your business. Being so advised, we trust you will act accordingly.

 

Sincerely,

James, Smith, Durking & Connelly LLP

Gary L. James

Speaking of tortuous interference, perhaps some excerpts from the Pittsburgh Catholic cemetery telephone script will be of interest to consumers. (Shared with the FCA office by a person troubled by the hard-sell tactics expected—and quotas required if a sales rep is to keep his/her medical insurance benefits.)

A free booklet titled "Emergency Record File" is the prop for getting cemetery sales people in the front door. The booklet consists of a few blank forms on which to list personal information, family members, medical information, asset information, and funeral/cemetery information that would, no doubt, be of help at a time of death—simple to fill out, certainly not "confusing."

 

When prospecting from the parish list, the only objection that needs to be handled on the initial approach is: "I'M NOT INTERESTED."

THEM: I'm/We're not interested.

YOU: I can certainly understand how you feel. You're probably not interested in buying cemetery property are you? [Empathy approach, agree with them.]

THEM: That's right, etc.

YOU: Well, Mary, you would have shocked me if you said that you were, but I'll still give you the book because I'm sure you would agree that sooner or later everyone has to do this whether they are interested or not. The Church feels that if we can give you a book which would help you and your family, then when you are ready, you will be better prepared (slight pause). What's usually better for you and your husband, afternoons or evenings? (continue to offer options)

NOTE: The key to any approach is to end your side of the conversation with a question. This keeps you in control of the conversation and gives you the opportunity to keep probing for a convenient time to come back with the book.. . .

THEM: Can't you just give me (or mail me) the book and information?

YOU: Mary, what we have found in the past is that when we have just left the book without explaining it, it created more questions than it answered for Catholic families. Mary, other families that have received this book have found it extremely valuable and helpful. The Church just wants families to have as much information as possible so as to be prepared ahead of time. That just makes good sense doesn't it? Mary, what is usually better for you and your husband afternoon or evenings? (continue to offer options.)

Note: All other specific objections need not be handled on the initial approach. The proper method to handle these objections is to avoid dealing with them unless they would result with you not being able to visit with the family. Regardless of what form this objection may take, here is how to handle that objection:

YOU: THAT'S PERFECTLY OK, (Magic words!) Mary you are still entitled to the book. The Church feels that it is important that every Catholic family should have this information prior to the time it is needed. We feel it is better to have the information and not need it than to need it and not have it. That just makes good sense doesn't it? Mary, what is usually better for you and your husband, afternoons or evenings? (continue to offer times.)

 

Play mental ping-pong.
An objection is only a request for more information.

 

What happened to the Catholic mission of mercy and Church teachings about charity?
 

Rock of Ages- Monumental Greed

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Rock of Ages

Now that it is a publicly-traded company, it would seem that the Rock of Ages monument folks have abandoned their Vermont heritage and are opting for the ways of the money-hungry city-slickers. Their advice to the dealers they sell to: Set your prices at four times the cost. That's a 400% mark-up! The Rock is also purchasing retail outlets (but the name stays the same). I guess we can be pretty sure that prices there will carry the hefty mark-up, too.

How hefty will the mark up be? One "floating price" tactic suggested to dealers by a Rock staffer: Tell the consumer looking at a flat marker (these are roughly one foot by two feet) that the price is $1,000—because many people will actually pay that much not knowing any better. If the consumer complains, admit this was "top-of-the-line" and show them another one, mentioning a lesser price. (Wholesale cost for both markers: $58 before lettering.) This is a major reason why the FTC should require that monument dealers have a printed price list to give out.

A word to the wise consumer: If you are not already doing comparison shopping before purchasing a marker or monument, you'd better plan to from now on, if you're a frugal shopper. And it's a mistake to think a marker will be cheaper through the cemeteries. Sometimes those prices are set considerably higher, assuming that you'll gladly pay more for the one-stop convenience. Oh, yes, if the sales person tells you that their cheaper stones are "factory seconds," ask him/her to show you where the flaws are. Likely the only "flaw" is no Rock of Ages seal mark that cranks up the price. Other granite from the same city's quarries can be had for a lot less, and you can't tell the difference—even they can't, nine times out of ten.

The Rock salesmen are MUCH too eager to wait for you to find them, however. Taking a tip from the Fuller Brush and Watkins folks, they're now poised to go door-to-door. . . but not just any door. As soon as the obituary appears, brace yourself. As the salesman pulls up and gets out of the car, you can expect to hear the car door SLAMMED shut. He (and they're mostly men) will glance up at your window, expecting to see you peeking out. Even if he can't see you behind the curtains, he'll wave to let you THINK he's seen you. (There's a better chance you'll open the door if you think he knows that there's someone at home—whether you're in the mood for company or not.)

So you want to just say "no"? That's not so easy. The fella will insist on leaving you some material. Fumbling with his briefcase, he'll ask if he can step inside for a minute so he can set it down. Now watch this next trick. Bending over his brief case: "Oh, my aching back. It's killing me. Can I sit down for a minute?" Now he's not only managed to get inside, he's sitting down in one of your chairs or on the couch.

Want to rush him back out the door? Watch the sleight-of-hand that comes next. He'll put down an expensive pen as he reaches for the various materials he's going to give you. But you know what? The pen will be left on the table or cushion or floor. Because, after all, that gives him an excuse to get back in your door—two hours later being the suggested waiting time to retrieve "the valuable pen my wife gave me for our anniversary" or some such excuse.

Well, I have a cleft I'd suggest for his pen the next time.

 


Shopping hint: Go to one of the internet search engines and type in "monument." You'll get some state parks, but you'll get on-line monument dealers, too. Many of them list prices on their web site and are willing to ship anywhere in the country.
 

Swapping Cemetery Lots

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Swapping Cemetery Lots

 

Consumers with firm resolve can sometimes prevail. Here's how one woman managed to get her mother's grave lots swapped from one corporation cemetery to one in another town.  --- FCA


 

Here is my letter which got such excellent results. I copied the company on it and told them, in very nice words, that I intended to send it to my mom's Senators, my Senators (in another state), AARP, and the Gray Panthers, asking for appropriate legislative action and lobbying. I also said I'd be sending it to the Dept. of Consumer Affairs, and several newspapers so that they could do appropriate news coverage and warn consumers. Then I said that I first wanted to give them the opportunity to reconsider their decision before I sent the letters, and therefore they had until 5 PM that day to agree to swap the plots. They called me at 5:04 PM with their offer to do so. When they called, they said the reason they were swapping them was because my mom had been told by their salesman that the plots were swappable within the company's family of cemeteries. Of course, I believe it's because they would have spent way more than the $5,000 it cost them to swap, had they had to answer inquiries by Senators and newspapers—not to mention the subsequent negative publicity they'd incur. If you post this, please omit any mention of the particular cities, my mom's name, or the name of the cemeteries and firm. Please point out to people that if they want to do something similar, it helps if they have a firm case; they also need to spell out exactly what it is they want from the firm, i.e. "I want a direct swap." For best results, they should be very, very nice but also very firm, and should set a time limit so the issue doesn't go on and on without resolution. The letter should not be perceived by the recipient as "threatening," but merely state one's case and why they think they've been unfairly treated. Folks have more power to create trouble for the cemetery than people normally think.

Regardless, the best way to guard against such injustices is to be aware of deceptive practices and negotiate hard before signing the contract, when the cemetery will be willing to deal in order to close the sale. After signing, you lose all further negotiation power. Do price comparisons before signing; don't fall for "the price expires on such-and-such-a-date" line; and most importantly have an attorney review the contract before you sign it. This will be money very well-spent: in reviewing my mom's contract, I noticed some pretty slippery terms in the fine print! Had they not been there, she would have had much better legal footing with which to force the cemetery's compliance. The average person who has no legal background just doesn't realize what they're agreeing to—the clause can look very innocuous but turn out to be highly onerous. Lastly, remind your constituency that regardless of how the contract reads, there may be subsequent legislation which supersedes the terms of the contract.

Thanks a bunch for your website. I learned a lot from it, which is what first motivated me to fight back in my mom's defense. Please note that I didn't promise to NEVER send such a letter! I will probably still lobby for reform, but without naming any individual firm—and I think I'll wait til my mom's deal closes.

 


Dear Senator:

Thirty years ago, my parents purchased two cemetery plots at XXX Cemetery, for a price of $468 total. They subsequently moved to another town some distance away. My father died there and was buried in YYY Memorial Park. Both cemeteries are owned by the same corporation. Plots of the type my mother owns are currently priced the same at both cemeteries, about $2,495.

My mother of course wishes to be buried with my father. She therefore inquired as to the ability to transfer the plots. She was told that she could apply the full purchase price of her original plots to the purchase price of the new ones. In other words, they will give her $468 for plots now worth $5,000, and charge her full price for the new ones! They told her if she didn't like this deal, she could sell the plots herself. This is a very difficult proposition for an elderly person. In fact, it has proved impossible since she doesn't live in first city anymore and the cemetery refuses to provide her any assistance, not even brokering the graves for a fee. She has spent hundreds of dollars advertising the plots yet received only one call.

The cemetery's policy seems a completely unfair practice. My mother is elderly and is simply being taken advantage of. The plots are real estate which has appreciated, and the cemetery policies are, simply put, designed to cheat her and others in similar circumstances. All of the advantage is completely one-sided: the cemetery winds up making a bundle on both sides of the transaction, and my mom winds up with her choice of "out a lot of money" or "owner of a worthless asset". The cemetery gets to sell the plot twice, at full value of 30 years ago and then again at the full appreciated value of 1998.

They know that they have my mom over a barrel, since she wants to be buried near my father, and they are therefore taking complete advantage of her and playing her emotions. And, since XXX Cemetery controls the prices for access and service at their cemetery, other solutions such as moving my father or doubling the grave depth are cost-prohibitive (the cost for this would about equal the cost of buying the second plot).

I have inquired of this through ICFA (a cemetery and funerary association); their reply is appended at bottom. I have also provided, as background and as further evidence of the deceptive practices of this corporation, a note from my mother in which she explained to me the things that were told her by the two cemeteries. I have reviewed the contract she signed in 1969 and it simply says that sale or transfer shall be subject to the cemetery's then rules or any they may adopt in future—giving them free rein to make unilateral changes, which strikes me as an unfair, unconscionable contract term. I understand that there is nothing obligating them to do the "land swap". I don't even mind them charging a fee for this service—say $500. I just think their current practice is so completely unfair as to be predatory, and it especially impacts elderly people. I would very much appreciate it if you would have your office investigate this practice and take appropriate action.

 


[Note from the mother to her daughter] Re: the cemeteries

When Dad died & I called YYY Memorial Park, they told me the lots were only transferable for what we originally paid for them, which I think was approx. $407 (or whatever is in the papers). When I talked to the man at XXX Cemetery, he said, "See, if YYY belonged to this company, there would be no problem—it would be swappable. I could swap but then I'd only have the $400+ applied @ YYY & owe the rest. When I last talked to XXX, they told me that plots were now worth $3,000 but I could only transfer what I originally paid for them. I suppose that is the way they are making their money. XXX salesman told me he didn't know anything about YYY, the nerve!


[Response from ICFA:]

Your email to Mr. Budzinski of our staff has been forwarded to me for a response. Cemeteries do not typically repurchase cemetery lots and many states have laws prohibiting the sale or resale of burial lots for purpose of financial gain. However, I believe that in your state, you can retain a cemetery sales broker (possibly a real estate agent) to sell unwanted cemetery property. If you would like to discuss this issue, please feel free to call me at 1-800-645-7700. I hope this information is useful. Robert M. Fells General Counsel, ICFA

 

Wait 'em out, wear 'em out

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Callous Indifference or Crafty Calculating?
Stewart's wait-them-out-and-wear-them-out tactics

 

July 26, 1998

Mr. Peter Savaadra
Simplicity Plan
PO Box 141418
Miami, FL 33114-1418

Dear Mr. Savaadra,

I apologize for not sending this letter sooner. After the disinterment in Miami and the burial of my grandfather's remains in Boston on March 14, I had to take some time to reflect on all that had transpired and to contemplate whether I would pursue this matter and if I decided to do so, how I would proceed to resolve it. Due to time constraints and my work schedule, it took a few months to organize all this information and compose this letter. I also wanted to wait until I was certain that I would receive payment from St. Sophia's Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Miami for the gravesite at Woodlawn Park. Last week a check was finally mailed to me.

Enclosed is the bill for the flower spray for which you offered to reimburse me after I called you on March 12 to report the condition of the casket that I purchased from your firm. I have also included the pictures of the damage to the casket. As you can see, the pictures speak for themselves. The fact that my grandfather's remains arrived in this damaged casket was extremely upsetting especially after all the difficulties I had experienced with your firm throughout this process. It took a total of 8 months for the disinterment to take place which is absurd. And then to receive a damaged casket just added more insult to injury. The top was scratched, white paint was scraped along one entire side, there was a gouge on one of the handles, chips along the bottom edge, and a 1" x 3" piece of plastic chrome trim was broken off. This piece was not found in the air tray where it should have been if it had occurred during shipping. This is exactly the reason why I did not want to pay in full up front. Since I had experienced so many difficulties up to that point, I did not have confidence that everything would proceed smoothly up to the conclusion of your services and with the merchandise I had purchased, i.e. the casket.

There are a few things that I want to clarify with you regarding the less expensive casket I purchased (20 gauge steel instead of 18 gauge steel). It was difficult to talk to you when I was on vacation in Florida since I didn't have any of the contracts and my notes with me. I had not anticipated any additional problems with the casket at that time. My initial phone call to your firm was on April 15, 1997. I was put in touch with one of your senior memorial counselors, Marta Garcia-Rubio. I explained to her that I wanted to obtain some general information and an estimate for the cost of a disinterment. My grandfather had been buried in Woodlawn Park North since April 1960. My grandmother had often expressed her desire to transfer my grandfather to Boston to be buried alongside her and my mother, their only child, who died in 1973. Since my grandmother's death almost 3 years ago, I have been wanting to fulfill her wish. Marta mentioned at that time that I most likely would need to purchase a new casket since my grandfather had been interred for so many years. She also told me I could make arrangements to make payments over a period of time from several months up to a year. I had not anticipated that I would need to purchase a new casket so I told her I would think about it and would contact her again if I decided to proceed.

My next phone call to Marta was on August 1, when I requested information on the exact cost of the disinterment and a new casket. The first contract (#M 70081) was faxed to me the next day. Casket choices or prices were never discussed. Also a general price list from the funeral home providing the services was not sent to me with the contract. I have since learned that both of these omissions are in violation of Federal Trade Commission regulations. After reviewing the contract, I felt that the funeral home charges were reasonable but I did question the cost of the casket. It was listed at $1795 for an 18 gauge steel gasketed casket with swing handles by Kennington. I emphasized to Marta that I wanted the cost of the disinterment to be as economical as possible. I did not need to purchase an expensive casket since there would not be a viewing or formal funeral service. There would only be a short gravesite service with a few family members present. I only wanted whatever was legally required to ship my grandfather's remains by air carrier. I had made arrangements for my grandmother s funeral in October, 1995 and I knew that caskets had a wide range of prices from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars. Marta told me that "this is the type of casket you need, an 18 gauge steel sealed casket" since my grandfather's remains were being transported by plane.

During several subsequent conversations during the month of August I again questioned her about the price of the casket and received the same response—"this is what you need." During one of these conversations Marta suggested that after the disinterment I could sell the gravesite back to the cemetery which would help to offset my cost. She told me to contact Miriam Ybarra to pursue this. My first contact with Miriam was on August 14. She told me that since I did not have a deed for the gravesite there would be some paperwork and documentation that I would have to send to her.

Toward the end of the month Marta informed me that prices were going to increase September 1 and she advised me to sign the contract. At this point I was still organizing the paperwork to send to Miriam so I did not know yet what the cemetery would pay me for the gravesite. Selling it was going to determine my actual cost of the disinterment. Marta assured me that if I signed the contract and gave a deposit, it would "freeze the prices" and if I decided not to proceed, my deposit would be refunded. On August 29, I signed the contract and gave a $180 deposit which was charged to my Mastercard account. I agreed to make payments over a 6 month period.

At the end of August I sent all the information and documentation that Miriam had requested since I did not have a deed to the gravesite. On September 12, I phoned her to confirm that she had received it. She told me she had everything and that it was all in order. When I asked her if she had an answer for me as to how much the cemetery was willing to pay for the gravesite, she replied that "these things take time." When I asked her how long she said "it could take months." When I told her I thought that was unreasonable she asked me how soon I wanted the disinterment to take place and I told her as soon as possible. She told me to give her 3 weeks to look into the matter and if I didn't hear from her by then to call her.

After 4 weeks passed without hearing from her, I called on October 15. It was evident when I reached her that she had done nothing about it. It took her a few minutes to locate my paperwork on her desk. She told me she had everything she needed but I had neglected to send her the deed to the gravesite! Again I reminded her that I did not have it and that is why I sent her all the documentation she had requested (letter of intent, copy of my driver's license, notarized documentation that I am the only surviving heir of my grandfather). In addition I had also sent copies of my mother's and grandmother's death certificates and my grandmother's will to prove I am the only surviving heir. I told Miriam that it was very upsetting that 6 weeks after she had received my paperwork she had not obtained any information for me. She told me she would look into it and call me back. A few minutes later she called and said that there was no record of ownership under my grandmother's name and asked if it could be under another name. I told her to try looking under my parent's name (all this information was in the letter of intent which I have enclosed). A few minutes later she called again and said there was no record under that name either and there was nothing more she could do. I told her that was ridiculous, that there had to be some record of ownership to the grave in the cemetery's files. I reminded her she had the location where my grandfather was buried (section, lot, grave) and that she could research it using that information. Here I was, telling her how to do her job. This was very frustrating since all this information was in the letter of intent which I had sent her. She called a few minutes later and had an answer for me—the owner of the gravesite was St. Sophia's Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Miami and the priest, Rev. Demosthenes Mekras, had signed the interment order. It took about 20 minutes to obtain this information, but the paperwork had been sitting on her desk for 6 weeks.

Miriam told me "your grandmother never owned the gravesite so you can't sell it." I told her it seemed unlikely that the church just gave the gravesite without receiving payment for it since I knew my grandparents had not been destitute. Miriam told me Fr. Mekras was still living and suggested that I contact him or the church to follow up on it. She never did mention to me, as you did when we later talked, that the cemetery still could have made arrangements to purchase the gravesite from me. All that needed to be done was to get permission from the church. I then asked Miriam whose signature was required on the disinterment order since Fr. Mekras had signed the interment order instead of my grandmother. She told me to contact Marta about it.

When I called the church Fr. Mekras told me that my grandmother had paid for the gravesite and did in fact own it. I made arrangements with the church to purchase the gravesite from me after the disinterment was completed.

During the 4 weeks that were wasted waiting to hear from Miriam, I had no contact with Marta since at that point I did not know if I was going to proceed with the disinterment. The following day, October 16, I called Marta to tell her what Miriam had told me about the gravesite and to have her inquire about whose signature was required on the disinterment order. She told me she would look into it and get back to me. After waiting almost 2 weeks to hear from her I attempted to contact her on October 27 without success and left a message for her to return my call. During this time I had made some inquiries about the cost of the casket at several funeral homes and at the cemetery where my grandfather would be interred. Everyone I spoke to told me I could purchase a less expensive casket that would serve my needs. I was told that Batesville makes a 20 gauge sealed casket called Econogard that would cost approximately $1000. I again placed calls to Marta on November 13, 17, 18, 20, 21 (x2) and 25 and repeatedly left messages with individuals who could barely speak English. Around this time my first payment was due which I did not intend to pay since I still did not know for sure at this point whether I was going to go ahead with the disinterment and I was still waiting to hear from Marta. I called the billing department to explain the situation but they insisted I needed to make a payment or I would be charged interest. I was given your name and was told I needed to speak with you or your secretary, Jackie Llanes, concerning the matter. Over a period of 3 days I left 2 messages for Jackie and one for you on your answering machines. Several days later, on November 21, Jackie called and I explained the situation to her. She advised me not to make any payment until I knew if I was going to proceed with the disinterment. She assured me that I would not incur any interest charges and she would inform you of the situation.

I again placed a call to Marta on December 1 and was asked to leave a message. This time I refused and demanded that I speak to someone who could reach her for me. It had been almost 7 weeks since we had talked on October 16 and she said she would get back to me. My call was transferred to another extension and Marta answered the phone. I told her how long I had been trying to reach her and she claimed she had not received my messages. I reminded her that I had been waiting for her to get back to me about whose signature was required on the disinterment order. She told me that when we terminated our phone conversation on October 16, she immediately had called Miriam and Miriam was supposed to look into it and contact me! Why had Marta called Miriam about this after I told Marta that Miriam had told me to call her7 weeks had passed and nothing had been done about finding out whose signature was required on the disinterment order. At this point I was losing my patience with people not doing their job. It was very distressing to me the length of time all of this was taking. It now had been 3 months since I had signed the contract. about it? Now another

I then told Marta that I wanted to proceed with the disinterment since I now knew the church would purchase the gravesite. I again questioned her about the price of the casket and received her standard response of "this is what you need." I then mentioned the Econogard and for the first time she admitted that I could purchase something less expensive but a new contract would have to be written and some prices had increased in the meantime. I told her to send me a new contract and I would review it. She said she could not get me the Econogard but could obtain a casket that would be comparable. I assumed that whatever casket she listed would be a sealed one since all along she had told me "this is what you need" and the one I had requested (Econogard) was sealed. On December 2, the second contract (#M 82593) was faxed to me. Again a general price list from the funeral home was not sent to me. A new casket was listed (Nichols—20 gauge) for $995 (a difference of $800) and in addition there was a $95 charge for an air tray which had not been listed on the first contract and the funeral home prices were doubled so the difference was only $180. On December 4 I called Marta and questioned her about the air tray and inflated funeral home charges. She replied that she had "forgotten" to charge me for the air tray and there had been price increases and there was nothing she could do about it. There was no way for me to prove or disprove this, since I had not received any price lists. I reminded her that I had given a deposit to "freeze the prices" that were in effect in August but she said she didn't have the authority to do anything about it. Since Marta could not help me any further, I then requested to speak with a superior. When she did not offer anyone's name I asked her what your title was in the firm. She replied you were the Vice President and her boss. When I called Jackie immediately after our conversation, she remembered me from our previous conversation a few weeks earlier when I had called about my first payment. I explained to her the situation with the second contract and she agreed that the funeral home prices on the first contract should be honored but she would have to get approval from you. She asked me for the numbers of the contracts and said she would get back to me. I waited several days and called again on December 8. Jackie told me that either you or Benito, Marta's supervisor would call me. She had not called me back to tell me this —again I had to call to get this information.

After receiving no call that day I called the next day, December 9 (twice) and 10 and left messages on Jackie s machine. This was a consistent problem with everyone I dealt with in your firm—people not having the courtesy to return my calls. I do admit that by this time I had become very persistent but I was extremely frustrated and felt I had no choice, otherwise I would still be waiting for a call. I called again on December 11 and reached Jackie. She acted surprised that I had not heard from you or Benito. She said she had the contracts on her desk. When she started to review them with me, she realized that one of them belonged to another client with a similar name. So now another week had passed and nothing had happened. Had she not checked the contracts when she received them to make sure they were correct? And how could you or Benito be getting back to me about them if she did not have the correct contracts to be compared and they were still on her desk? Obviously she had not taken the time to check them and she certainly had not shown them to you or Benito yet. I was not happy at this point and I told her so. Later on that day she called me at work to tell me that you would honor the funeral home prices on the first contract and that Marta would be instructed to rewrite a new contract with the original funeral home prices and the less expensive casket.

Five days later, on December 16, I had not heard from Marta so I called Jackie and left a message. Two days passed with no call so I called again on December 18 at 9:40 am. Jackie said Marta would be in touch with me. I reminded her that she had told me this one week before on December 11. She told me she would locate Marta and have her call me before I left for work. By 10:15 there was no call so I called again and Jackie said she spoke to Marta and she would call me at work. Why hadn't she called me back to tell me this? Again I had to call to get this information. At 1:45 pm Jackie called me at work to tell me that Marta had a death in her family and was busy making arrangements and would not be able to call me that day but would call the following day. Did she not know this when she spoke to Marta earlier? I don't believe that she had spoken to Marta earlier as she had claimed. She had told me that to pacify me at the time. The next day I waited for a call all day and attempted to call Marta at 4:15 pm and was told she was not in. I then called Jackie and was told she was on the other line and would call me right back. Twenty minutes later I called again and spoke with Daisy. I asked to speak to either you or Jackie. She told me you were not in and Jackie was not answering her page. At this point I felt I was deliberately being ignored.

Four days later on December 22, I still had not received a call from anyone. I called Marta and reached her. She said she would write a new contract and fax it to me but would have to get approval from you first. I informed her, as she should have already known, that you had already given your approval which I had been told 11 days before on December 11. The third contract (#M 82616) was faxed to me later that afternoon. On this contract a different 20 gauge casket was listed (20 gauge olivetone) for the same price of $995 and there was a $45 cemetery administrative processing fee that had been listed as n/c on the first contract and left blank on the second one. When I questioned Marta she said she had "forgotten" the $45 processing fee on the other contracts and the other casket (Nichols—20 gauge) was no longer available but this one was comparable. Again I assumed this was a sealed casket since that is what I had requested by wanting to order the Econogard and I had been told all along that "this is what you need" to transport by plane. Marta told me she would write up an original contract, correct several errors I had pointed out and mail it to me for my signature.

By December 30 I still had not received the contract so I called Marta and left a message for her to call me. I signed the faxed contract that I had, made the necessary corrections on it and faxed it to Marta. She had mentioned that there would be an increase in prices January 1 and I didn't want to be told the contract would not be valid if not signed by December 31. The next day, December 31, I called Marta again and was told she would not be in for the day. Again I left a message for her to call me. I then called Jackie a left a message on her machine that I had not yet received the written contract . It now had been 4 months since I had signed the first contract.

Again my calls to Marta and Jackie were never returned but on January 4 the written contract arrived in the mail. With this contract I received a general price list from the funeral home for the first time and there was a form for me to return requesting my signature to verify that I had received it. Reviewing this price list which was effective on December 1, 1997, it was evident to me that the prices had not doubled back in October as Marta had claimed. Also there was a separate document with a description of the casket I had purchased. Fixed handles is checked off but neither box for gasketed or ungasketed is checked. I didn't think anything of this since I had been led to believe that I was purchasing a sealed casket. I immediately signed the contract and mailed it to Marta with a note asking her to call me as soon as she received it as I was anxious to set a date for the disinterment.

By January 16, as I had come to expect, I had not received a call so I placed a call to Marta. She claimed that she had not received the contract. Then she said that she hadn't even mailed it to me yet! At this point I was extremely upset and I told her I was fed up and she started yelling at me and stated she didn't remember anything about my case. I immediately called Jackie to tell her what had transpired. I told her Marta and I had reached an impasse and I did not want to deal with her any longer. She said she would look into the matter and get back to me later. After waiting all day for her call, I called at 4 pm and Jackie said the contract had been located "on someone else's desk" and that Marta would call me. Again she had not called to tell me this. I had to phone her to find out this information after waiting all day for a call. At 4:30 pm Marta called and said she had located the contract and we could proceed after she received payment in full from me. I told her that in light of the firm's poor performance up to that point, I was reluctant to do so and would prefer to pay 50% before the disinterment and the remaining 50% when my grandfather's remains arrived in Boston. She told me this was impossible, that I would have to pay in full before the disinterment could take place. At 4:40 pm I called Jackie and left a message on her machine to call me. Four days later on January 20, when I still had not received a call (which was no surprise), I again called and left a message on Jackie's machine at 1 pm. I then tried to contact Marta a few minutes later without success and left a message. At 1:15 pm I called Jackie again and finally reached her. She said you wanted to talk to me and that is when I finally spoke with you personally.

It had taken almost 7 weeks to finally talk to someone in authority. We discussed at length (28 minutes) about all that had transpired up to that point. Due to all the problems that I had experienced, I explained why I was hesitant about making payment in full up front. You told me that it was the company's policy and that I would have to comply. I also told you about the numerous phone calls I had made and the lack of response to my calls and that I would appreciate reimbursement for my phone bills. When I asked you about the inflated funeral home charges on the second contract, you told me a different funeral home had been used which was more expensive. Since Martha knew I wanted to keep the cost down, why would she then use a more expensive funeral home? In fact, there is no funeral home listed on that contract—the space was left blank. On the first contract Metopolitana with no address was listed as the designated funeral home and Caballero Woodlawn was listed on the third contract. I also mentioned to you that there had been violations of Federal Trade Commission regulations and that I was considering filing a report to the Federal Trade Commission. You assured me that you would oversee things from that point on.

A few days later on the morning of January 23 I submitted my Mastercard information to Jackie. That afternoon you left a message on my machine that you wanted to offer me a "minor discount for all the difficulties I had experienced with your firm." When we spoke again a few days later on January 28, you mentioned that you were deducting $150 from the contract price and that you hoped that I would reconsider about filing a report to the Federal Trade Commission. My only comment to this was that I appreciated the discount and that I wanted the disinterment to take place as soon as possible, preferably before I was to go on vacation the week of February 22. You said it would take a few weeks to make the arrangements.

On February 5 the disinterment order arrived in the mail. I signed it and returned it on February 6. By February 13 I still had not been notified about a date so I called Jackie to find out what was happening. I told her if the disinterment was not going to take place within the next week, it would have to wait until I returned from my vacation. On February 19 you called to ask me about the disposal of the marker at the gravesite. We decided the disinterment would take place the week of March 1. On February 23 I called and left a message for Jackie to call me. Due to a sudden death in the family of my friend who was traveling with me, our vacation to Florida was postponed for a week and therefore I needed to delay the disinterment to the week of March 8. As expected, my call wasn't returned so I called again the next day and informed Jackie of the change in plans. She told me you would call me.

A week later when I left for my vacation on March 2, I still had not received a call. When I arrived in Florida later that day I called and left a message for Jackie. The next morning I called again and left a message. An hour later I called again and had Jackie paged. When I spoke with her she never mentioned why she hadn't returned my calls. I told her I wanted you to call me to confirm the plans for the following week. Since I was on vacation, I was not going to be able to sit by a phone all week waiting for a call. I was returning home on Wednesday, March 11 and wanted the interment to take place on Saturday, the 14th which meant that my grandfather's remains needed to arrive in Boston no later than the 12th. I never did get a call from you but the next day, March 4, Ms. Jill Dailey called from Funeraria Metropolitana—Caballero Woodlawn Funeral Home to review the plans for the disinterment. She was cordial and professional during our conversation and I thought for the first time that everything might possibly proceed smoothly from that point on. At the conclusion of our conversation, she told me she was going to contact Mr. David Eaton at Eaton Funeral Home to provide him with all the necessary details and airline flight information.

Mr. Eaton called me a short time later to tell me that when Ms. Dailey had called, she informed him that the airlines could refuse to transport my grandfather since there was a "major problem with the less expensive "unsealed" casket that I insisted on purchasing." Nothing could have been further from the truth. I had been lead to believe that I was purchasing a sealed casket. Mr. Eaton also informed me that Ms. Dailey had been extremely rude and hostile towards him to the point that his answering service (who transferred the call) asked him who the caller was because she was also rude to them. It was inexcusable for Mr. Eaton to be treated in this manner. I did not personally know Mr. Eaton prior to engaging his services to handle the arrangements at this end. He has been nothing but cordial and professional and a source of advice and comfort in helping me deal with this nightmare. Had I known that I would encounter so many problems and so much aggravation, I would have had Mr. Eaton deal directly with your firm from the beginning. My phone call to Marta last August was just to obtain some general information and prices. When this information was sent to me in the form of a contract, it appeared that making the arrangements would not be that complicated and therefore, I assumed that I would be able to manage it.

As I'm sure you recall, I immediately called you after speaking with Mr. Eaton to clarify with you the situation with the casket. I was not aware of, as you were, that it was an unsealed casket. You told me you were fairly certain that the airline would accept shipment since odor most likely would not be a problem. If shipment was refused, you would then absorb the cost for a sealed casket to be used. Or at the time of the disinterment, if it was determined that odor would be a problem, a sealed casket would be used at "no additional cost" to me. Again I want to reiterate that all along it was my understanding that I had purchased a sealed casket. So I did not believe that you were offering me any additional discount or doing any favors for me.

Meanwhile, Ms. Dailey faxed me some paperwork to fill out and documents to sign. There was a two page form to fill out on my grandfather's biographical information and vital statistics. All this information was easily obtainable from the death certificate which she should have had in her possession. The documents consisted of a copy of the third contract and the funeral home price list which I had received with it. The third was a disclosure statement that I was willing to sign only after adding appropriate comments on the checklist. I have enclosed copies of these documents in addition to the three contracts.

On Monday March 9, Ms. Dailey called and informed me that you had made the decision to use a sealed casket in order to avoid any potential problems with the airlines and that I would not incur any additional cost. Again she did not mention any of the controversy about the casket and I did not want to go into it with her at that point. American Airlines transported my grandfather's remains to Boston on Wednesday March 11. I arrived home from my vacation in Florida late that evening. The next morning Mr. Eaton called me to inform me of the damage to the casket. I immediately called you and left a message, notified work that I would be late, and then went to the funeral home to see the damage and take pictures. When I arrived at work, you returned my call. Understandably, I was extremely upset during this conversation. You told me that you had personally gone to the warehouse to select the casket and had not noticed any of the damage that I described. I find it hard to believe that you personally went to the warehouse to select the casket and if you did, that you could not have noticed the damage. The only other explanation is that the damage occurred at the funeral home in Miami. Mr. Eaton told me that this type of damage does not occur during shipping and this is why an air tray is used—to protect the casket. I accepted your offer to purchase the floral spray to cover the scratches on the top of the casket even though I had not planned on having one. At that point I was too emotionally distraught to think clearly.

On April 7th I spoke with a representative from Mastercard to inquire about any recourse I may be entitled to in order to obtain partial reimbursement for the damaged casket. I was told nothing could be done since damaged merchandise had to be returned before litigation can take place. Technically the merchandise is still in my possession and cannot be returned since it is now buried.

I do appreciate your efforts to remedy some of the problems I experienced with your firm. The $150 discount you offered will help to pay for my 63 phone calls which total $69.20. Since October, I began keeping a detailed phone log when it became apparent to me that plans were not proceeding smoothly. I have also obtained all my itemized long distance phone bills which I have enclosed. However, as you implied, there was no further discount by giving me a sealed casket at "no additional charge". As I have stated, I was led to believe that I was purchasing a sealed casket ever since the second contract was sent to me. I know that a 20 gauge sealed casket can be purchased for approximately $1000. To have my grandfather arrive in a damaged casket was the final insult after all that had transpired while dealing with your firm. There were many days wasted while I stayed home waiting for promised phone calls and days that I was late for work because I was waiting for calls to be returned. It is impossible to convey to you the aggravation, frustration and stress I endured throughout this ordeal. My only consolation is that I finally achieved my goal and my grandmother s wish to have my grandfather buried alongside her and my mother.

In view of your firm's dismal performance of services rendered, I feel that I am entitled to additional compensatory reimbursement for the damaged casket and the emotional distress I endured. Your firm repeatedly violated Federal Trade Commission regulations by initially not allowing me a choice in selecting a casket and not providing me with a funeral home price list with the first and second contracts. After questioning the cost of the casket many times, it wasn't until I mentioned a specific sealed casket by name that I was finally told I could purchase a less expensive one. And then I was misled to believe that I had purchased a sealed casket when in fact it was unsealed. Lack of courtesy in returning phone calls was another major problem as well as individuals not performing their job professionally and in a timely manner.

After giving much thought and consideration to this disturbing matter, I feel morally obligated to send a copy of this letter and to file reports with the Federal Trade Commission, Florida State Board of Funeral Homes and Embalmers, and the Funeral Memorial Societies of America. If only one thing is accomplished from all this, I hope a family will never be treated in the manner that I experienced with your firm. Families place their trust and confidence in the funeral home they select during their time of need. It is a sad and difficult time for them and they deserve to be treated with honesty and respect. It is inexcusable and unethical to be subjected to unnecessary aggravation and stress as well as unlawful practices especially during this time when a family is in a vulnerable position mourning the loss of a loved one.

Sincerely,

Jo-Ann Rosen
39 Sunset Rd.
Needham, MA 02494
Phone 781-449-1507

 

 

 

enc: 5 pictures of casket damage
Morrison Florist bill
contracts M 70081, M 82593, M 82616
letter to Miriam Ybarra
2 Mastercard receipts
letter of payment for contract M 82616
3 documents from Funeraria Metropolitana
itemized phone bills

 


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