FTC says consumers weren't getting required pre-purchase information
In the third series of cases to emerge from a nationwide crackdown on funeral homes that fail to give consumers price lists and other required information, the Federal Trade Commission today announced five enforcement actions against funeral home operators in Delaware. The crackdown involves joint FTC/state AG enforcement sweeps, where test shoppers are sent into most of the funeral homes in a given area to determine whether the homes provide consumers with copies of itemized price lists, a key requirement in the FTC's Funeral Rule. The FTC's Funeral Rule is designed to ensure that consumers know they can purchase only the goods and services they want or need.
Five funeral home operators in the Wilmington area are the latest to be identified following a sweep conducted by the FTC and the Delaware Attorney General's Office. Other sweeps have netted seven cases in the Nashville, Tennessee, and five cases in the Tampa, Florida, areas. More sweeps and cases are expected to be launched soon.
"The Funeral Rule sweeps have had a significant impact on our efforts to improve compliance with the Funeral Rule," said Jodie Bernstein, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "The enforcement sweeps send the message that the FTC and the states will not tolerate violations of the rule, an important tool for helping consumers make informed decisions at a difficult time. In addition, the Commission has endorsed efforts by the National Funeral Directors Association to bring about better compliance with the Funeral Rule through self-regulation and industry education."
In the cases announced today, the FTC alleged that the five Delaware funeral home operators failed to give the test shoppers a copy of the required general price list. In some instances, when the homes opted to include prices for caskets and outer burial containers on lists separate from their general price list, the FTC alleged that they failed to provide these supplemental lists to the test shoppers, as required by the rule. The companies and named corporate officers have agreed to settle the charges under consent decrees that would require them to comply with the Funeral Rule in the future and to pay civil penalties. The settlements require court approval to become binding. They are with:
- Robert C. Hutchison, Jr., which does business as Daniels & Hutchison Funeral Homes, in Middletown ($3,500 civil penalty);
- House of Wright Mortuary, Inc. of Wilmington, and its corporate officers Robert 0. Wright and Jacquita Wright ($7, 700);
- J. Llewellyn Bell Memorial Chapel, Inc. of Wilmington, and J. Llewellyn Bell ($3,200);
- John F. Yasik, Inc., of Wilmington, and its corporate officers John P. Yasik, Jr., John P. Yasik, III and Stephanie A. Yasik ($3,700); and
- Yasik Funeral Home--Stanley S. Yasik, Inc. of Newark, and its officers Stanley J. Yasik, Jr. and Joseph S. Yasik (no civil penalty, but the settlement would permit the FTC to seek civil penalties should the defendants be found to have misrepresented their financial situation).
The FTC's Funeral Rule was promulgated in 1984 and revised in 1994. The rule requires funeral homes to give consumers who visit a funeral home a copy of a general price list that they can use to comparison shop. This list discloses that consumers do not have to purchase a casket if the deceased is to be cremated without a viewing, as well as other important information about legal rights and required purchases. The FTC's rule also makes clear that consumers do not have to buy a package deal. And it requires funeral homes to give consumers itemized lists of the goods and services they've selected, so that they can be sure to pay only for the items they've chosen or that state law requires.
A free FTC brochure for consumers, titled "Funerals: A Consumer Guide," provides additional information about consumers' rights and legal requirements when planning funerals. Copies are available at the address below.
The Commission vote to authorize filing of the Delaware area cases was 5-0. They were file today by the Department of Justice at the FTC's request in U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware, in Wilmington.
NOTE: These consent decrees are for settlement purposes only and do not constitute admissions by the defendants of law violations. Consent decrees have the force of law when signed by the judge.
Copies of the FTC consumer brochure and the complaints and proposed consent decrees in these cases are available from the FTC's Public Reference Branch, Room 130, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580; 202-326-2222; TTY for the hearing impaired 1-866-653-4261. To find out the latest FTC news as it is announced, call the FTC's NewsPhone recording at 202-326-2710. FTC news releases and other materials also are available on the Internet at the FTC's World Wide Web Site at: http://www.ftc.gov
(FTC File Nos./Civil Action Nos:
Yasik: 952 3400/ 96-147
Wright: 952 3177/ 96-148
John Yasik: 952 3398/ 96-149
Bell: 952 3178/ 96-150
Hutchison: 952 3399/ 96-151)