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Final Rights

Reclaiming the American Way of Death

Casket Disclaimer Form Prompts Complaint to Federal Trade Commission

Posted By 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

Craig Tregillus|
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.

Joshua Slocum
Executive Director
Funeral Consumers Alliance (national office)
33 Patchen Road
South Burlington, VT 05403
www.funerals.org
802-865-8300

 

We’ll post whatever we here from the FTC.

 


Comments

4 Responses to “Casket Disclaimer Form Prompts Complaint to Federal Trade Commission”

  1. Hank says:

    The FTC says a funeral home must accept a 3rd party casket without charge, but the funeral home is not required to warranty that casket. That’s where the funeral homes waiver comes into play. If you buy a 3rd party casket YOU are responsible for that casket, not the funeral home. If you buy a casket from a reputable funeral home, the funeral home would stand behind what they sell in the unlikely event of breakage or damage.

    Unless the casket is being made by a Craftsman, the chances are the casket is coming in from China and the quality is poor at best. If a handle breaks or if the bottom falls out of the casket during use, the funeral home cannot be help liable for this since it’s not the merchandise they choose to sell.

    If casket stores become a common place and families continue to buy caskets from a 3rd party, funeral homes will likely start selling caskets at wholesale cost and making up the difference in basic service fees. The cost of traditional burial will not change, but cremation prices may double since the FTC says a funeral home cannot charge less for any service than what their basic service fee is.

  2. Josh Slocum says:

    The FTC says a funeral home must accept a 3rd party casket without charge, but the funeral home is not required to warranty that casket. That’s where the funeral homes waiver comes into play. If you buy a 3rd party
    casket YOU are responsible for that casket, not the funeral home. If you buy a casket from a reputable funeral home, the funeral home would stand behind what they sell in the unlikely event of breakage or damage.

    True, they don’t have to warrant it. But that’s not all this disclaimer does. It excuses the funeral home from any responsibility for the casket at any point during the funeral process, which prompts suspicion. The FTC has also said funeral homes can’t employ tactics like this as a means to steer consumers away from a third-party casket.

    Unless the casket is being made by a Craftsman, the chances are the casket is coming in from China and the quality is poor at best. If a handle breaks or if the bottom falls out of the casket during use, the funeral home cannot be help liable for this since it’s not the merchandise they choose to sell.

    Not true. There are plenty of third-party caskets made by American companies aside from Batesville, Aurora, and York. Funeral directors I know have remarked that the quality of Chinese caskets they’ve seen is on a par with American models —you’re just stereotyping.

    And bottoms falling out? You must be the eleventy-fifth funeral director who’s repeated that canard without ever having seen it happen.

    If casket stores become a common place and families continue to buy caskets from a 3rd party, funeral homes will likely start selling caskets at wholesale cost and making up the difference in basic service fees.

    It’s interesting how brazenly you admit funeral homes trap consumers this way by loading up the profit level to which they feel entitled within the one fee consumers can’t avoid. But the price is all about the level of service you provide, right?

    Funeral homes are already doing this which is why we advise consumers to shop around for service fees too.

    The cost of traditional burial will not change, but cremation prices may double since the FTC says a funeral home cannot charge less for any service than what their basic service fee is.

    Not true. The FTC issued an opinion saying it was fine to charge a smaller basic services fee for direct cremation, immediate burial, and forwarding and receiving. Read it here.

  3. Mary Alice Bisbee says:

    Hi Josh,
    Thanks for all you are doing to protect consumers from this kind of scam. Like so many other ways companies have to skirt around the laws with little accountability or way that damages can happen, or liability proved either from the supplier or the user, it may be a place where only consumer education can help solve the problem.

  4. I am not sure where you are getting your info, but great topic.
    I needs to spend some time learning more or understanding more.
    Thanks for magnificent information I was looking for this information for my mission.

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