Common Causes of Funeral Home Litigation

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Posted By | May 29, 2024 | Firm News,Personal Injury

Understanding the common causes of funeral home litigation is crucial for both funeral home operators and families. These legal disputes often arise from various forms of negligence and misconduct.

In this guide, we will explore the key issues that frequently lead to lawsuits in the funeral industry and provide insights on how to prevent them.

Stats About the Funeral Industry in the United States

Fact Value
Annual revenue of the death care industry in the U.S. $20.2 billion
Number of funeral homes in the U.S. 19,322
Average cost of a funeral with burial $7,848
Percentage of cremations in 2020 56%
Projected percentage of cremations by 2025 63%
Average cost of a funeral with cremation $5,150
Annual number of deaths in the U.S. Approximately 3.4 million
Average number of employees per funeral home 5
Percentage of funeral homes privately owned 89%
Average salary of funeral directors $54,000 per year

Mishandling of Remains

Mishandling of remains is one of the most distressing and common causes of litigation against funeral homes. This includes a range of negligent practices that can severely impact grieving families.

Failure to Properly Store or Refrigerate Bodies

One critical issue is the failure to properly store or refrigerate bodies. Funeral homes must ensure that bodies are kept in a controlled environment to prevent decomposition.

Improper storage can lead to horrific conditions, causing immense emotional distress to families.

Incorrect or Negligent Embalming Practices

Incorrect or negligent embalming practices can result in poorly preserved bodies. This can cause a great deal of anguish for families during viewings and services.

Proper embalming techniques must be followed to maintain the dignity of the deceased.

Loss or Misidentification of Remains

Another serious problem is the loss or misidentification of remains. Families rely on funeral homes to accurately identify and handle their loved ones’ bodies.

When remains are lost or misidentified, it leads to devastating consequences and legal action.

Unauthorized Cremation or Burial

Unauthorized cremation or burial is a significant violation of trust. Families expect their wishes—and those of their loved ones—to be respected.

When funeral homes perform unauthorized cremations or burials, it can result in severe emotional harm and lawsuits.

Commingling of Ashes

The commingling of ashes is another issue that can lead to litigation. Families expect that the ashes they receive are solely those of their loved one.

Mixing ashes with those of other deceased individuals breaches this trust and often results in legal claims.

Improper Handling During Transportation

Improper handling of remains during transportation can cause physical damage to the body and emotional damage to the family.

This includes rough handling, accidents, or using unsuitable vehicles, all of which can be grounds for litigation.

Display of Decomposed Remains During Viewing

A particularly distressing scenario is the display of decomposed remains during a viewing. Families expect to see their loved ones well-preserved.

When remains are shown in a decomposed state, it can cause severe emotional trauma and lead to legal action.

Use of Unapproved Embalming Chemicals

Using unapproved embalming chemicals can lead to health hazards and poor preservation of the body.

Funeral homes must adhere to industry standards and regulations regarding chemical use to avoid legal issues and ensure safety.

Lack of Sanitation Leading to Health Hazards

The lack of sanitation in funeral homes can create health hazards.

This includes unsanitary preparation areas and improper handling of biological materials, which can result in infections and other health risks, prompting litigation.

Neglect in Maintaining Funeral Home Facilities

Neglect in maintaining funeral home facilities can lead to unsafe conditions for both staff and visitors.

Families expect a clean, safe environment when they come to pay their respects. Failure to maintain facilities can result in accidents and subsequent lawsuits.

Breach of Contract

Breach of contract is another common cause of funeral home litigation. Families enter into agreements with funeral homes expecting that all services and terms will be honored.

When these contracts are breached, it can lead to significant legal disputes and emotional distress.

Failure to Provide Agreed-Upon Services

One frequent issue is the failure to provide agreed-upon services. Families may pay for specific arrangements, such as a particular type of casket or a scheduled service time.

When funeral homes fail to deliver these services, it can result in severe disappointment and legal action.

Hidden Fees and Charges

Hidden fees and charges are a significant concern in funeral home litigation. Families often plan funerals on tight budgets and expect transparency in pricing.

When funeral homes add unexpected costs, it can lead to financial strain and accusations of deceptive practices.

  • Unexpected administrative fees that are not disclosed upfront
  • Additional charges for basic services that should be included in the package
  • Overpriced caskets or urns compared to market rates
  • Fees for services that were not requested or authorized by the family
  • Extra costs for transportation and handling of remains
  • Marked-up prices for floral arrangements and other accessories
  • Hidden costs associated with embalming or cremation
  • Unclear billing for facility use during viewing or memorial services
  • Unanticipated charges for paperwork processing, such as death certificates
  • Additional fees for after-hours or weekend services

Unauthorized Substitutions in Funeral Merchandise

Unauthorized substitutions in funeral merchandise can also lead to litigation. Families expect that the casket, urn, or other items they select will be the ones used.

If funeral homes substitute cheaper or different items without consent, it breaches trust and contractual obligations.

Non-Compliance with Service Timelines

Non-compliance with service timelines is another common issue. Funerals are time-sensitive events, and delays can cause considerable distress.

Families depend on funeral homes to adhere to the scheduled times for viewings, services, and burials.

Misrepresentation of Services and Products

Misrepresentation of services and products can mislead families into making decisions they would not otherwise make. This includes exaggerating the quality of services or the features of products.

When families discover the truth, it can lead to feelings of betrayal and legal challenges.

Inaccurate Cost Estimates

Providing inaccurate cost estimates can cause significant problems. Families rely on these estimates to plan their finances.

When actual costs far exceed the estimates, it can lead to disputes and claims of breach of contract.

Lack of Proper Documentation

The lack of proper documentation can also lead to legal issues. Contracts and service agreements must be clear and detailed.

When documentation is incomplete or inaccurate, it can cause misunderstandings and disputes.

Ignoring Specific Family Wishes

Ignoring specific family wishes is another breach of contract issue.

Families often have particular requests regarding the handling of their loved ones and the funeral services. Disregarding these wishes can result in emotional distress and legal action.

Failure to Honor Pre-Paid Funeral Plans

Failure to honor pre-paid funeral plans is a serious concern. Families purchase these plans to ensure that their loved ones are taken care of according to their wishes.

When funeral homes do not honor these plans, it can lead to significant legal and financial consequences.

Disregard for Cultural or Religious Practices

Disregard for cultural or religious practices is another critical issue. Funerals often involve specific traditions that are important to the deceased and their families.

When funeral homes fail to respect these practices, it can cause considerable distress and litigation.

Unlicensed and Unqualified Staff

Employing unlicensed and unqualified staff is a significant cause of litigation against funeral homes.

Families expect that those handling their loved ones are properly trained and licensed. When this expectation is not met, it can lead to numerous legal issues and a loss of trust.

Employment of Unlicensed Personnel

One major issue is the employment of unlicensed personnel. Funeral homes are required to ensure that all staff involved in embalming, cremation, and other sensitive tasks have the appropriate licenses.

Hiring unlicensed individuals can lead to improper handling of remains and severe legal consequences.

Lack of Proper Training and Certification

Lack of proper training and certification is another critical problem. Even licensed staff need ongoing education to stay updated with industry standards and best practices.

Without proper training, staff may make mistakes that can cause emotional and legal issues for families.

Negligence in Hiring Practices

Negligence in hiring practices can result in employing individuals who are not fit for the sensitive nature of funeral services.

This includes failing to conduct thorough background checks or not verifying credentials. Such negligence can lead to serious mishandling of duties and subsequent litigation.

Failure to Conduct Background Checks

Failure to conduct background checks is a risky oversight. Background checks help ensure that staff members have no history of misconduct or criminal activity.

When funeral homes skip this step, they risk employing individuals who may pose a threat to the dignity and safety of the deceased and their families.

Inadequate Supervision and Oversight

Inadequate supervision and oversight can exacerbate issues related to unqualified staff.

Proper supervision ensures that all procedures are followed correctly and that any mistakes are promptly addressed. Lack of oversight can lead to repeated errors and increased legal risks.

Breach of Professional Standards

A breach of professional standards by unqualified staff can lead to significant legal challenges.

Funeral homes must adhere to a strict code of conduct to maintain trust and provide high-quality services. Any deviation from these standards can result in severe consequences, including litigation.

Unqualified Staff Handling Embalming or Cremation

Having unqualified staff handle embalming or cremation can lead to disastrous results. These processes require specific skills and knowledge to be performed correctly.

Mishandling these tasks can cause irreparable damage and lead to legal action from distressed families.

Non-Compliance with State Licensing Requirements

Non-compliance with state licensing requirements is a serious issue that can lead to significant legal challenges for funeral homes.

Each state has specific regulations that funeral homes must follow to ensure they are operating legally and ethically.

Failure to comply with these requirements can result in penalties, loss of licenses, and lawsuits from affected families.

  1. Operating without the necessary state-issued licenses
  2. Employing unlicensed staff for critical tasks such as embalming and cremation
  3. Failing to adhere to state-mandated health and safety standards
  4. Not maintaining accurate and complete records as required by state law
  5. Ignoring state regulations on the handling and disposal of remains
  6. Failing to renew licenses and certifications in a timely manner
  7. Not complying with state-specific requirements for pre-paid funeral plans
  8. Operating in facilities that do not meet state regulatory standards
  9. Providing services beyond the scope of their licensed capabilities
  10. Ignoring continuing education requirements for licensed staff

Ethical Violations by Unlicensed Employees

Ethical violations by unlicensed employees can severely damage a funeral home’s reputation. These violations can include disrespectful treatment of remains, theft, or fraud.

Such actions not only cause emotional distress but also open the door to legal action.

Seek Professional Legal Assistance

If you or your family have been affected by funeral home negligence, Carew Garcia is here to help.

Contact us at (214) 227-2220 for compassionate support and legal assistance. Ensure your rights are protected and receive the justice you deserve.