As many of us know, funerals and burials are among the most poignant and emotionally devastating moments that anyone will encounter in their lifetime. Death is painful to confront, but funerals help give us closure by celebrating and sanctifying the life of the person who has passed on. Around the globe, virtually every culture and religion maintains its own rituals surrounding the burial of deceased individuals, and funerals rank among the most expensive and emotional purchases any consumer will ever make. For all of these reasons, one always expects the experience of a funeral to be conducted in a respectful and compassionate manner.
Unfortunately, funeral homes are not always as careful as we would like to think they are, and appalling mistakes – or deliberate shortcuts — are sometimes made. Many of today’s funeral homes, crematoriums, and cemeteries have been acquired by large corporations where profitability takes priority over proper handling and care of the dead, and as a result, funeral and burial abuse can occur. As established Pennsylvania funeral and burial abuse lawyers with over 34 years of courtroom experience, the attorneys at Reiff & Bily have investigated and litigated situations including body misidentification, wrongful cremation, and other means of dishonoring the dead and their bereaved family and friends.
Sometimes Trust Can be Misplaced
It is the inherent nature of the funeral industry that the highest trust is given to burial service providers by the decedent’s survivors, particularly where ensuring the proper identification of deceased persons is concerned. Industry standard requires that body identification be checked daily, and also every time a body is moved for any reason, even from one room to another within the same facility. This is especially important with respect to cremation, due to its irreversible nature.
No one entrusting something as precious as the remains of a loved one to a funeral service provider should ever have to experience being told that their one opportunity for emotional closure has been taken away by professional ineptitude. No one expects that proper protocol and standards of care will be violated – but sometimes, they are. When that happens, you don’t have to struggle with with the repercussions on your own. You may be entitled to financial compensation, and more importantly, you can regain some inner peace through the knowledge that an unethical funeral home has been held responsible for their misconduct.
When a family decides on a funeral home, cemetery or crematorium for their deceased loved one, they expect the remains to be handled without the utmost of care so that the dignity of their loved one is respected. Typically friends, family and colleagues will gather at the facility for some combination of a wake, funeral and final ceremony. Aside from offering a final resting place for the deceased, the deceased’s loved ones look to the facility to provide closure so that they can accept their loss. In such emotionally fraught circumstances, there is simply no excuse for negligence, corner-cutting or abuse as it robs the deceased of their dignity and inflicts severe and unnecessary emotional trauma on the family and friends. The loss of a loved friend or family member is traumatic enough. At Reiff & Bily we have held funeral homes accountable for their actions for more than 34 years.
What Type of Acts Constitute Funeral Home, Crematory, or Cemetery Abuse?
Unfortunately there are a myriad of ways in which end-of-life facilities may intentionally or inadvertently abuse your deceased loved one. While some forms of abuse may stem from simple negligence, other times more sinister reasons cause the abuse. Greed is a powerful motivator in many abuse cases. In some instances greed has motivated facilities to:
- remove jewelry and valuables from the corpse prior to burial without authorization
- employ bait-and-switch tactics regarding coffins
- place more than one body in a coffin
- fail to maintain the cemetery, mausoleum or gravesite
- remove and sell body parts
- improperly store bodies
These acts are examples of the pain and emotional trauma that economic concerns can inflict. While a funeral is free to charge a reasonable value for its services, it may not pad its bottom-line by committing fraudulent or dishonest acts.
What Protections Exist in Pennsylvania?
Both Pennsylvania and federal law prohibit abuse of the deceased. The Federal Trade Comission (FTC) has issued a number of consumer protections which are designed to curb dishonest practices by funeral directors. While this is not exhaustive, protections include mandatory disclosures and rights such as:
- a right to be told the price of all goods and services over the telephone
- the ability to only purchase the goods or services you want (anti-bundling)
- the right to see a written and itemized general price list
- the right to see a written casket price list
- the ability to purchase a casket or urn from a source other than the funeral home
- the ability to make funeral arrangements without requiring embalming services
Likewise, Pennsylvania state law provides consumer protections while protecting the dignity of the deceased and the family from additional emotional trauma. For instance, Burial Grounds Title 9 requires cemeteries to establish and maintain a fund for the perpetual care of the burial facility. Further, Pennsylvania criminal law prohibits the:
- desecration of any public monument or structure, or place of worship or burial (Second degree misdemeanor)
- unauthorized sale of a gravestone or memorial (Second degree misdemeanor)
- unauthorized removal of valuables or body parts.
Our attorneys can advise you of your rights and hold the facility accountable for their negligent or malicious acts.
We Protect the Memory of Your Loved One – Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Free Consultation
The attorneys at Reiff & Bily understand the grief and emotional turmoil surrounding the loss of a family member, and understand that when a funeral home or cemetery makes a mistake, it leaves an emotional scar. You deserve closure and compensation for your ordeal. Our lawyers pledge to carefully evaluate the details of your case while maintaining a respectful and compassionate approach to this painful and sensitive topic.
To schedule a free and confidential no-obligation consultation with one of our experienced funeral and burial abuse attorneys, contact us online, or call us today toll-free at (215) 274-0072.