Federal judge upholds state casket law

posted on:
March 1, 2003

Jere Beasley

For the past several years, some consumer groups have complained concerning the costs of caskets for burial purposes. For example, in Oklahoma all caskets have to be purchased from a licensed funeral director. A federal judge ruled recently that an Oklahoma state law that prohibits anyone but licensed funeral directors from selling caskets is constitutional. The judge ruled against claims that the law creates a casket cartel, driving up costs and taking away a consumer’s right to search for the best deal. A few other states have similar laws. An Internet seller of funeral supplies sued the state Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors because she couldn’t do business in Oklahoma. A funeral director’s license in Oklahoma requires two years of college, a one-year apprenticeship, and the embalming of 25 bodies. Should consumers have a choice to buy their caskets at reasonable prices? That was the question presented to the court.

There has been other litigation around the country dealing with this problem. A lawsuit in 2000 alleging a casket monopoly in Tennessee was won. Similar laws have been struck down in the last few years in Mississippi, South Carolina, and Georgia. Besides Oklahoma, states that currently allow only licensed funeral directors to sell caskets are Maine, Vermont, Delaware, Virginia, Louisiana, Minnesota, Idaho, and last – but not least – our own state of Alabama. The number of independent casket sellers has grown across the country in the last decade because of a 1994 Federal Trade Commission regulation that prevents funeral homes from charging “casket-handling” fees if consumers choose to buy their casket from another business.

Everybody pretty well knows that the costs of funerals, including casket costs, have grown at a rapid pace. The Alabama law on funeral services, which includes the sale of caskets, is found in Chapter 13 of the Code of Alabama. See §34-13-1, et. seq. There is an interesting website that you might want to visit. The National Casket Retailers Association claims to be a group of members (discount casket retailers) opposed to anti-competitive activity by the funeral industry. If interested, go to www.casketstores.com. I suspect there will be successful challenges of laws such as that in Oklahoma in the future. I am not aware, however, of any plans to challenge Alabama’s law.

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