There has been a settlement in a case involving prepaid cremation and funeral services.
Gulfport Attorney Karen Keaton has been getting calls about notices received from some Gulfport and St. Petersburg residents regarding the settlement of a class action lawsuit (and potential damages) regarding funeral services.
“Everybody is so scared to respond or do anything because there is so much scamming,” said Keaton, managing partner of Gulf Beaches Law PA in Gulfport.
Keaton said the lawsuit is legitimate and recipients should take a look at the notices and see if they might be impacted.
The lawsuit was filed in federal district court in Fort Lauderdale in 2020 against Service Corporation International, the Houston-based owner of funeral homes and funeral services providers across the US That includes the Neptune Society, a cremation services providers with a significant Florida footprint.
Neptune’s parent company was also named in the suit.
The civil complaint alleged the funeral companies were not keeping enough of pre-deposited customers’ money in special funds that make sure there is enough money for prepaid funerals.
Keaton said in Florida companies that offer prepaid cremation services have to keep 70% of those customer payments and deposits in a set-aside fund. The suit also challenged refund policies related to prepaid services.
The Florida lawsuit claimed SCI and its various affiliates were not doing that and the class action includes as many as 87,000 Florida customers, according to court records.
In September, a $209 million settlement was announced.
Keaton has also seen other suits brought against SCI and other funeral providers in the other states.
“There have been quite a number of them,” said the local attorney, who specializes in tax, elder, and estate-related law.
In 2019, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and the district attorneys for the city and county of San Francisco, Alameda County, and Marin County filed a similar lawsuit against the Neptune Society.
In a statement, SCI acknowledged the Florida settlement but also stressed it contested assertions of any wrongdoing.
“While we strongly maintain there was no wrongdoing on Neptune’s behalf, in an effort to move forward and continue our full focus on serving our families, we agreed to settle the remaining disputes,” the company said in a statement to The Gabber.
“As part of the settlement, Neptune is offering this class of customers the option to cancel their contracts for a full refund for a specified time, if they return all the products and benefits purchased,” the statement continued. “Based, in part, on our customer surveys and because we don’t believe any of our customers were deceived, we are confident that our customers value our products and services and do not believe there will be a material number of cancellations. We stand behind our products and services and are honored by the continued loyalty our customers have shown us.”
The company also said it has not had any regulatory or licensing issues regarding its business and sales practices in Florida.
“The Florida Board of Funeral and Cemetery Services has never once challenged the legality or impropriety of the business operations of Neptune or National Cremation Society in the manner alleged in the litigation,” SCI representatives wrote in the statement.
Keaton also wrote about the settlement in a legal newsletter she provides to clients and others.
“If you purchased pre-need services through any of the companies named as defendants in the lawsuit, you are already a member of the class of plaintiffs in the lawsuit, and you should have already received a letter from the United States District Court about the settlement and your rights in the lawsuit,” Keaton said.
She said customers can ask for a refund or they can also get a free online obituary as part of the settlement.
“It would definitely not be a good idea to exclude yourself from the lawsuit,” she said.
The Gulfport attorney also noted that refunds might not get paid out until other portions of the lawsuit are completed and that plaintiffs attorneys in the civil case are getting $15.5 million.
“The lawyers always win on those things,” she said.
Team Gabber brought back the print version of the newspaper, and we’ve redesigned our website to make it easier for you to get the news. We’re not out of the woods yet, and every little bit helps pay our reporters, printers, and other expenses. Support local news and families — donate now to keep The Gabber Newspaper serving the community it loves!