According to a complaint filed in late September, the cemetery sold a nearly $12,000 funeral services package to 68 year-old Vivian Jackson, who is diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and psychosis, while she was staying at a mental health facility. It was only after she left to stay with her daughter, her legal guardian, that it was discovered that Ms. Jackson had been paying nearly $140 a month over the last two years to the cemetery. According to her daughter, Ms. Jackson neither knew of the payments nor expressed any desire to be buried at Crown Hill.
The class-action lawsuit alleges that the cemetery violated Indiana's Pre-Need Act by directly soliciting patients in mental health and health care facilities for prepaid cemetery and funeral arrangements. Many of these patients suffer from conditions that require a legal guardianship to make financial decisions for them. Although currently only Ms. Jackson is named in the suit, her attorneys believe she is just one of many to be taken advantage of these predatory sales techniques.
“We hope this lawsuit will end these outrageous practices,” said attorney Vess Miller of Cohen & Malad, LLP, the firm representing Ms. Jackson.
While pre-need funeral and burial arrangements serve an important need by allowing one to decide the manner and disposition of their remains, they must be tightly regulated to protect consumers from salespersons who may not have their best interest in hear. Whether or not Ms. Jackson's suit succeeds, this story is a reminder of the importance of consumer protection laws, particularly in the funeral and cemetery industry, where economics and emotion are so closely intertwined.