Legal Issues


A provincial goverment press release from Nova Scotia, Canada:

A change to provincial regulations for vehicle warning lights will allow the lead car in a funeral procession to use a purple flashing or revolving light on a highway.

“The regulations were amended in response to requests from funeral directors to have purple lights on the lead vehicle in a funeral procession to alert other drivers to the presence of the procession,” said Brooke Taylor, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal.

While drivers in a funeral procession traditionally turned on headlights to differentiate the procession from other highway traffic, this practice is less effective with the widespread use of daytime running lights.

The rules in the Motor Vehicle Act for funeral processions have not changed and apply whether or not the lead vehicle has a purple light. Drivers are prohibited from interrupting the funeral vehicles by driving through or into the procession, except at a traffic signal.

An increasing number of provinces allow funeral procession vehicles to display flashing purple lights and use is relatively widespread in the United States.

The amendments support government’s priority to keep communities safe.


FOR BROADCAST USE:

     A change to provincial regulations for vehicle warning

lights will allow the lead car in a funeral procession to use a

purple flashing or revolving light on a highway.

     Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal Minister Brooke

Taylor says the regulations were amended in response to requests

from funeral directors to have purple lights on the lead vehicle

in a funeral procession to alert other drivers to the presence of

the procession.

     An increasing number of provinces allow funeral procession

vehicles to display flashing purple lights and use is relatively

widespread in the United States.

Media Contact: Lindsay Mills
              Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal
              902-424-3289
              E-mail: millsle@gov.ns.ca

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After reading the headline 1 Killed in Funeral Procession Crash, I wondered how many funeral directors are still gladly leading funeral processions and what it will take for us to encourage our clients to eschew this time-honored (and, nowadays, dangerous) practice.

In my days as a funeral home administrator, I seldom led funeral processions, since I was often charged with cleaning up after a funeral had left the chapel.  But before I headed back inside to scrub green oasis stains from beige carpeting, I usually had the harrowing task of stopping three lanes of 55-mpg+ traffic for the procession.

The cussing, honking and rude gestures got so bad that I finally printed this Florida statute on a piece of poster board:

316.1974  Funeral procession right-of-way and liability.  3(a):  Regardless of any traffic control device or right-of-way provisions prescribed by state or local ordinance, pedestrians and operators of all vehicles, except as stated in paragraph (c), shall yield the right-of-way to any vehicle which is part of a funeral procession being led by a funeral escort vehicle or a funeral lead vehicle.

Holding up the sign for oncoming traffic at least gave them something to read as they waited.  Still, there were numerous times that I was either verbally accosted or narrowly missed by a vehicle that didn’t care about the law.  One driver, a visitor from Georgia, actually hit my arm with his black BMW X3 as he drove around me and skirted the procession.

Other times I’d get the procession safely on the road, only to get a phone call from someone complaining that they had to wait in traffic for our procession.  One man complained that he had the right-of-way (a green light) and we should have told our procession members to stop at red lights.  Even after I read him the law and told him that our procession, in fact, had the right of way, he tried to complain that we shouldn’t do processions because he, and others like him, didn’t know the law.

We could argue that ignorance is no excuse, but truth is, ignorance gets people hurt.  On better days, ignorance only ends up in a fender bender or hurt feelings.  On the worst days, a little ignorance can end in death, like the news story I cited earlier.

What responsibility do we, as funeral professionals, have to the people in our care during a procession?  Lawyers can tell me all day long that any injury or death that occurs in a procession is not the liability of the funeral professional, but I wonder how I’d feel if someone died in one I was leading.  Would I find comfort in the law?  Would the negative effects of such bad publicity be mitigated because the law says I’m not responsible?

If I were still running a funeral home, I think I’d counsel families against processions.  I’d encourage use of printed directions.  Maybe we’d station staff cars at landmarks along the way, with a note on the map:  “If you get lost, meet up with a funeral home staffmember at the following locations.” 

What would you do?

A new Missouri law takes the power of sepulcher (decisions about funeral arrangements) away from the next-of-kin if a durable power of attorney has been designated by the deceased.

The article, published on the Missouri Attorney General’s consumer blog, states:

In the past, next-of-kin had the final say on this issue. So, in the past, if you chose cremation, your family could overrule you and your DPA and choose something else. But now your DPA will have the final say – so be sure to tell your DPA what you want.

Read the full article here.

I was eating lunch yesterday (a ham sandwich, if anyone cares) and the phone rang.

It was an AT&T operator with an IP relay call for me.  You may remember that we discussed these types of calls last October in a post titled What is an IP Relay Call and is it a Scam?

So I took the call (they’re free, at least to the receiver) and got the exact conversation the scam warning described, which went like this:

OPERATOR: (speaking for the typing scammer) Do you sell casket?

ME:  No, we don’t.

OPERATOR:  What do you do?

ME:  I don’t understand the question.

OPERATOR:  (long pause)… I need funeral home.

ME:  We’re not a funeral home.

OPERATOR:  The caller has hung up. 

This is a lot like the scams we’ve seen via email that ask for information regarding funeral products, or help repatriating remains to the United States.

As I’ve explained before, these people are trying to gain your trust so that at some point during the arrangement, they can convince you to pay for an item or service (caskets, consulate fees, etc.) before you figure out it’s a scam.

Often, more general scams of this nature ask the scam-ed person to pay taxes or consulate fees to accept a package sent C.O.D..  Usually, this package, which is supposed to contain large sums of money or valuables, is filled with junk or, worse, nothing.

I’ve heard a story, probably apocryphal, that a funeral director once accepted remains at the airport, for which he had to pay a cash C.O.D. charge, which contained, not a casket, but large rocks.

Be aware that an email or IP Relay call asking for your assistance with some nebulous, fishy-sounding situation is probably a scam. 

See these related posts:

“Possible Fraud Attempt!” Email is Actually Fraud Itself

Nigerian Scam Letter Turns to Funeral Homes

Intriguing Email. Should I Reply?

Email Scam Involving Caskets

Same Scam, New Tactic

Can I Sell You Some Copier Toner (Which you normally get free)?

I’ll Trade You $10 Million for Your Bank Account Number!

My second phone call from Lawyer/CPA Bob was really just an “Aha!” message saying he would accept the bet I offered in the post, An FCA Affiliate Speaks Up.

Except my exact quote was “I’d be willing to bet…” which, in simple English, means “I would be willing…with certain conditions.”

Here’s what I actually wrote:

I’d be willing to bet my salary and Mr. Slocum’s almost $50,000 salary  that Lawyer/CPA Bob doesn’t get out of bed at 2 AM for anything close to what the average funeral director makes.

In fact, the phrase “I’d be willing to bet” or “I’d bet” are common figures of speech or colloquialisms and are understood by most English speakers to be non-literal exaggerations.

Do we believe that a teenager who says “If I have to get braces I’ll die!” is actually afraid they will kill her?

Or that a man who proclaims a new device as “the best thing since sliced bread” is serious about the implications to society of the new gadget?

Should Lawyer/CPA Bob claim that I made an actual bet, I’d point out that the bet is difficult to distinguish.  Is he claiming that he does get out of bed at 2:00 AM for a sum close to what the average funeral director makes?

If so, we’ll have to figure out what the average funeral director makes.  Then we have to see how close Lawyer/CPA Bob’s salary is to the amount.

Of course, “close” is relative.  How will we determine if the amounts are “close?”  Is there an international designation for the specific amount the term implies?

And would Lawyer/CPA Bob have to prove that he actually gets up at 2:00 AM on a regular basis (at least as often as the typical funeral director does) or would proof of a few late nights a month be good enough for a court of law?

And who enforces bets?  Are we in Las Vegas, Reno or Atlantic City? 

I’d be interested in hearing some legal opinion on how a rhetorical comment in a editorial could be construed as an actual bet.

I’d almost bet… oops, can’t say that.  I’m fairly certain (in a non-threatening, editorial way) that I’ve got some protection under the First Amendment.  I also believe that I have not threatened or libeled Mr. Slocum, Ms. Bennett or Lawyer/CPA Bob in any way.

Mr. Slocum responded with well-reasoned emails and an invitation to call him if I wanted to talk more about his company.  Ms. Bennett offered her opinion and asked me “Since when is that wrong?”  I offered my opinion back to her in the post, An FCA Affiliate Speaks Up.

Now Lawyer/CPA Bob decides that mildly-harrassing phone calls, placed from a “restricted” number, are appropriate to the conversation.  He’s clearly calling for personal reasons, as he won’t reveal his last name or contact information.

He’s wrong.  Frankly, the only reason I can imagine that he would make such calls and vague quasi-threats is that it gives him some pleasure to intimidate others.

I am not intimidated, but  I understand his initial viewpoint:  he likes Mr. Slocum.

I’ll grant that many people may like Mr. Slocum.  Heck, after a conversation, I might like Mr. Slocum. 

But Lawyer/CPA Bob decided to sink to harrassment, while my main complaint remains the same:  FCA’s primary public interaction (with non-members – the vast majority of Americans) is fear-based.  FCA is best served when they get stories placed in news sources that scare the public into signing up for memberships or buying publications.

When 70% of your annual expenses pay employee-related costs (salaries, benefits, payroll taxes, etc.) the main purpose of your organization is to fund employees.

Are the employees still doing the work of the organization?  Gosh, I hope so.  Otherwise, they’d just be stealing from their members.

I’m sure that Mr. Slocum and others within local FCA’s believe they are doing important work.  Unfortunately, they equate choosing a funeral home based upon price as the most intelligent and savvy move.

They reinforce this by falsely accusing the majority of funeral directors of being greedy or crooks.

I disagree with that remark and I encourage all funeral directors to educate your community.

If you don’t, FCA will.  And Clearly, based upon FCA’s tax returns, it pays to do so.

You can say a lot in 114 pages, which might explain why some members of the Pennsylvania Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association filed that many pages of lawsuit against the State Board of Directors for what they claim is an “incestuous” relationship between the board and the PA Funeral Directors Association.

You can read the full story here.

Without reading the full complaint, I can’t really comment on the case, except to say that the practices discussed in the news story are similar to laws in other states.

Basically, some states restrict the ownership of funeral homes to, supposedly, protect the public.  And these practices might, but it’s always good to reconsider your state’s laws every few years.

Other rules, like not allowing any food in the funeral home, seem conterproductive to the mission of funeral service:  providing aid and comfort to families at the time of need.

At least one of the laws, which prohibits a director from transferring ownership to non-family members upon his/her death, seems designed to punish rather than protect.

Anyone want to share their own experiences with these types of laws?

A recent email conversation with a Final Embrace blog reader has revealed the age old wisdom that some of us have forgotten:  every business needs an attorney.

This funeral director, who I won’t name until he shares the outcome of the legal matter, asked me for an opinion on whether he should hand over funeral arrangement paperwork (contract, embalming authorization, etc.) to the attorney representing his client family in a wrongful death lawsuit.

Concerned that he might damage his relationship with the client family or be included in the lawsuit himself, he wanted to figure out what to do as quickly as possible, so as to lessen any impact it might have on his community standing.

Unfortunately, the issue was clouded by the law firm which requested, in addition to these documents, that the funeral home lower their bill (for services already provided) by almost 20%. 

The director was, at least in my mind, rightfully unsettled by this request, as he did not cause the death and had a signed contract for the services he provided at the price he quoted.  (I think that the attorney is trying to either free up money to fund his own work or wants to look like he accomplished something for the family to justify his fee.  If he/she operates a “no fee unless you recover money” type practice, this reduction of the funeral service bill might qualify as a “recovery.”)

But because I am not a legal scholar, I suggested that he get an attorney immediately. 

Let’s face it, if a client family turns over their affairs to a lawyer or one of those “consumer reporters,” it’s time for you to add a similar layer of support to your firm. 

Just remember, the best time to choose an attorney is NOT when you need one.  Take some time to audition lawyers now, before you need one.  And make sure you find one who can be there when you need him/her.  Because lawsuits, “Action News Reports” and angry families don’t happen when your schedule is most conveniently organized.

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