Posted By Josh Slocum on September 11, 2011
Despite being illegal since 1994, despite years of FTC rulings, and despite how shortsighted it is, some funeral homes are still throwing obstacles in the paths of consumers who exercise their right to buy a casket outside the funeral home. The latest complaint on my desk comes from casket retailer Elder Truss, who runs a business in Pensacola Florida.. He claims the Joe Morris funeral home is requiring customers to sign a disclaimer absolving the funeral home of any responsibility for the casket as a condition of doing business. If true, this violates the FTC Funeral Rule. Click here for a copy of the disclaimer.
In my capacity as executive director of Funeral Consumers Alliance, I filed this complaint with the FTC:
September 9, 2011
Funeral Rule Coordinator
Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20580
Dear Mr. Tregillus,
I’m forwarding to you a complaint from a casket retailer in Florida. Please consider this email from me a complaint filed by Funeral Consumers Alliance, and also as a request for an advisory opinion. Elder Truss, the casket retailer, has been in contact with us for some time. He alleges that at least two funeral homes in his area are placing obstacles before families who try to buy a casket from his business, rather than from the funeral home. These include requiring families to sign the attached disclaimer before “allowing” them to buy an outside casket. Mr. Truss says several potential customers have dropped their plans to buy his caskets out of intimidation.
The attached disclaimer contains worrying language that seems designed to exploit the emotional state of the recently bereaved. It does not merely ask families to acknowledge that the funeral home is not responsible for merchandise it does not provide. The disclaimer hints ominously about the “suitability” of outside caskets, and instructs families that they purchase one “at their own risk.”
While we know these “risks” are concocted by unscrupulous funeral homes, many grieving families do not. I have no trouble believing such a disclaimer has effectively steered many away from exercising their right to purchase a casket from a third-party, a right given to them by the Funeral Rule.
In addition, Mr. Truss believes the Joe Morris funeral home has intentionally damaged one of his caskets. If this allegation is true, the disclaimer would appear to be an attempt to shield the funeral home from redress. The form absolves the mortuary of responsibility for the “condition” of the casket. While it’s understandable that a funeral home would not want to accept responsibility for a casket that was *delivered* with damage, Joe Morris’ form does not make this distinction. What if the casket’s condition “changes” after it’s delivered and before the family sees it?
I ask FTC staff to give an opinion on:
* whether this disclaimer violates the Funeral Rule
* whether funeral homes may condition the customer’s right to purchase such caskets on the customer’s signing of such forms
Thank you for your time and attention.
Funeral Consumers Alliance (national office)
33 Patchen Road
South Burlington, VT 05403
We’ll post whatever we here from the FTC.