Nearly 1-In-5 Funeral Homes Found Violating Consumer Protection Rules

"Just because we're bereaved doesn't make us saps!" -- Walter Sobchak

“Just because we’re bereaved doesn’t make us saps!” — Walter Sobchak

In 1984, the Federal Trade Commission enacted the Funeral Rule, a set of consumer protection guidelines for U.S. funeral home operators covering everything from pricing transparency to casket-handling fees. And every year, FTC investigators go undercover to spot-check the funeral home industry to see if folks are abiding by the rules. According to the latest report, a significant number of them are not.

This year, the FTC checked out a total of 123 funeral homes in various regions of the country, and found violations in 27, or 18%. That is an uptick from last year’s investigation which found 16 violations at 102 funeral homes (15%).

Additionally, investigators accused 43 funeral homes (35%) of minor Funeral Rule violations. This is also a slight increase from the 2012 report, which found minor violations in 32% of funeral homes.

While the FTC does break down the number of violations per each tested market (see list below), it can not go into detail about specific violations. But among the standards tested by investigators are whether or not funeral homes provide consumers with an itemized price list at the start of an in-person discussion of funeral arrangements. Operators must also provide a casket price list before consumers view any caskets. Funeral homes are also forbidden from requiring consumers to buy a casket or any similar item as a condition of obtaining any other funeral good or service.

Funeral homes found to have committed significant Rule violations are permitted to enter the Funeral Rule Offenders Program, a three-year program designed to increase compliance with the law. Failure to enter the program or continued violations could result in the FTC filing a lawsuit with civil penalties of up to $16,000 per violation.

According to the FTC, all but one of the 27 offending funeral homes in this year’s investigation have entered FROP. The lone holdout is still under investigation by the FTC.

The 43 funeral homes facing minor violations must provide the FTC with evidence that it has remedied the error.

Since FROP began in 1996, the FTC has inspected nearly 2,700 funeral homes, 427 of which have agreed to enter the program.

Here is the market-by-market breakdown of violations in this year’s report:
Everett, Washington: 4 of the 11 funeral homes (36%) inspected had significant violations.
Baltimore: 1 of the 9 funeral homes (11%) inspected had significant violations.
Kansas City, Kansas/Missouri: 1 of 21 funeral homes (5%) inspected had significant violations.
Bayonne and Jersey City, New Jersey: 3 of 26 funeral homes (11.5%) inspected had significant violations.
Montgomery and Opelika, Alabama: 2 of 10 funeral homes (20%) inspected had significant violations.
McAllen, Texas: 4 of 18 funeral homes (22%) inspected had significant violations.
Brownsville and Harlingen, Texas: 8 of 21 funeral homes (38%) inspected had significant violations.
Denver: 1 of 11 funeral homes (9%) inspected had significant violations.

This news also gives us an excuse to run this Big Lebowski clip, in which a funeral director attempts to pressure The Dude and Walter into paying for the home’s “most modestly priced receptacle.” That is, before they remember there’s a Ralph’s around here.