The owners of a Brooklyn, New York, funeral home have settled a Federal Trade Commission civil penalty lawsuit alleging that they violated a key provision of the FTC's Funeral Rule giving consumers the right to buy only the funeral goods and services they want or need.
In the first enforcement case of its kind, the FTC alleged that the Andrew Torregrossa & Sons Funeral Home, and its owners, Andrew L. Torregrossa and John L. Torregrossa, informed consumers on at least two occasions that they would not conduct funeral services for them unless the consumers purchased a casket from the funeral home.
"This case sends an important message to the funeral industry," said David Vladeck, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "Funeral homes cannot lawfully refuse to serve consumers who want to use lower-cost caskets that are now increasingly available from local and Internet suppliers."
The Funeral Rule prohibits funeral homes from requiring consumers to buy any item, including a casket, as a condition of obtaining any other funeral good or service. The FTC is authorized to obtain civil penalties of up to $16,000 for each Funeral Rule violation in enforcement lawsuits filed on its behalf by the Department of Justice.
Under the proposed settlement, the defendants will pay a $32,000 civil penalty, and be permanently prohibited from refusing to provide their services to consumers who want to purchase caskets or other funeral-related goods elsewhere. The order also prohibits the defendants from violating any other Funeral Rule requirements.
The Funeral Rule, issued in 1984, gives consumers important rights when making funeral arrangements. Key provisions of the Rule require funeral homes to give consumers a general price list itemizing the prices of the funeral goods and services they offer at the start of a discussion of funeral arrangements, show consumers casket and vault price lists before they view caskets or vaults, and provide price information by telephone on request.
For more information about the Funeral Rule, read Paying Final Respects: Your Rights When Buying Funeral Goods & Services and Funerals: A Consumer Guide. Guidance for funeral homes is provided in Complying with the Funeral Rule.
The Commission vote to authorize the staff to refer the complaint to the Department of Justice, and to approve the proposed consent decree, was 5-0. The DOJ filed the complaint and proposed consent decree on behalf of the Commission in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York on June 27, 2012. The proposed consent decree is subject to court approval.
NOTE: The Commission authorizes the filing of a complaint when it has "reason to believe" that the law has been or is being violated, and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. The complaint is not a finding or ruling that the defendants have actually violated the law. This consent order is for settlement purposes only and does not constitute an admission by the defendants of a law violation. Consent orders have the force of law when signed by the District Court judge.
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