When a loved one passes, it is an emotionally taxing and turbulent time for all friends and loved ones. When we contract with a funeral home and receive assurances of proper and respectful care from a funeral director, we expect these promises to be strictly honored and carried. Certainly, the vast majority of funeral homes and directors understand the gravity of the situation and their promises to provide respectful care while family members and friends mourn and say their final farewells.
Unfortunately, as in any industry, there are some who have lost sight of the importance of their duties. Whether due to negligence or motivated to cut corners to pad their bottom line, these individuals fail to provide the respectful care that your loved one deserves. While these individuals are rare, one was unfortunately identified and fined in the Philadelphia area.
Maximum Civil Fine Levied Against Director and Hawkins Funeral Services
While the civil enforcement action by the Pennsylvania State Board of Funeral Directors will hopefully provide a deterrent effect against other funeral directors and funeral home employees who might consider cutting corners and treating the deceased with anything less than the respect they deserve, it is still likely to provide little comfort for the affected families. However, the penalties imposed are the strongest regulatory sanctions available under Pennsylvania law.
On May 16, 2016, The Pennsylvania State Board of Funeral Directors revoked the license of funeral director Blair Anthony Hawkins and his establishment, Hawkins Funeral Services. A total fine of $100,000 was levied against the individual and Hawkins Funeral Services Inc. Of that fine, $90,000 was imposed against Hawkins individually. This portion of the fine was imposed due to violations of Pennsylvania’s funeral director law regarding funeral services provided to three deceased individuals. $10,000 of the overall fine was imposed against Hawkins Funeral Services Inc. due to the business operating as an unlicensed funeral home.
What Practices Resulted in the Fines for the Funeral Home?
In proceedings held on May 16, 2016, the board found that Hawkins engaged in a number of practices that breached the professional responsibilities owed to the deceased individuals and to their loved ones. In one case, the Board found that Hawkins failed to promptly handle the remains of a deceased individual and “rather than treating the deceased with the dignity and respect to which they were entitled … Hawkins treated the deceased no differently than the bags of garbage stacked atop and around them.” Other cases of the improper acts committed by the director included retaining funds for funeral goods and services in excess of the value of goods and services provided and operating an unlicensed funeral home. In all, the board found Hawkins had engaged in professional misconduct due to gross incompetence, negligence or misconduct. The Board also found that Hawkins conduct constituted gross immorality in the context of rendering funeral services.
While the Pennsylvania Department of State’s searchable database entry has not yet been updated to reflect the Board’s findings, it does return two results for Hawkins. The first result is linked above and was only active for a brief period in the 1990s. The second result for Mr. Hawkins returned a license originally issued in January 1989. The license was last renewed last February and was valid until February 2018.
What Practices Can Constitute Funeral Home Abuse?
Funeral home abuse can cover a wide range of behaviors and practices that fall below the standards set forth in Federal Trade Commission (FTC) rules and state laws. As for the FTC obligations, funeral homes must present clients with accurate price lists to reduce the likelihood of predatory practices on grieving families. Unfortunately, a 2013 investigation by the FTC found that 25% of funeral homes failed to make these required disclosures.
Furthermore, Pennsylvania state law sets forth protections for the deceased and their grieving family members. These protections are civil and criminal in nature. Pennsylvania Burial Grounds Title 9 obligates cemeteries to establish and maintain a fund for the perpetual care of the burial facility. Criminal law protects the deceased against the unauthorized removal of jewelry and other valuables. The state’s Funeral Director law sets forth rules for qualifications, professional licensing, and professional standards of care for funeral directors and their organizations and companies.
Trust an Experienced Philadelphia Personal Injury Lawyer With Your Case
Violations of these laws due to negligence or intentional abuse can be emotionally devastating for family members and all loved ones. However, you may have options to hold a negligent or abusive funeral home accountable for your loved one’s treatment. To schedule a confidential consultation with the Philadelphia funeral home and cremation abuse lawyers of The Reiff Law Firm call (215) 246-9000 today. We understand your need for closure and to restore honor to your lost loved one.