Former South Hadley Funeral Home Sued for Mishandling Human Remains and Misappropriating Consumer Deposits
AG Obtains Preliminary Injunction against Defendants; Complaint Seeks Consumer Restitution and Civil Penalties
NORTHAMPTON – A former South Hadley funeral home and its funeral director have been sued over allegations of improperly handling unembalmed human bodies and misappropriating consumer deposits intended for future funeral arrangements, Attorney General Martha Coakley announced today.
“Families facing the loss of a loved one put their trust in funeral service providers to perform highly sensitive tasks with dignity and respect,” AG Coakley said. “We expect all funeral establishments to live up to that trust, not take advantage of families by misappropriating consumer deposits and ignoring personal requests for funeral arrangements.”
The complaint against Ryder Funeral Home, Inc. and one of its owners, William W. Ryder, filed in Hampshire Superior Court, alleges that the defendants collected pre-need deposits from consumers but failed to establish funeral trust accounts or purchase pre-need insurance policies as required under state regulations. Instead, the defendants allegedly used the pre-paid deposits for their own benefit and failed to follow consumers’ directions regarding funeral arrangements. The complaint also alleges the defendants did not take steps to cremate or promptly bury bodies, and did nothing to prevent the decomposition of unembalmed bodies.
Under the terms of the preliminary injunction, granted today by Judge Daniel Ford, the defendants are prohibited from performing funeral services, engaging in embalming or funeral directing, accepting consumer deposits, destroying records, and dissipating assets. Last Friday, the AG’s Office obtained a temporary restraining order with similar relief.
According to the complaint, an investigator from the Massachusetts Division of Professional Licensure (DPL) visited Ryder Funeral Home in May 2014 and discovered multiple bodies in various states of decomposition that were not being handled in accordance with state regulations. The DPL’s Board of Registration in Embalming and Funeral Directing immediately suspended the defendants’ licenses. In July 2014, the defendants permanently surrendered their licenses and closed the funeral home without providing notice to consumers.
Ryder Funeral Home had made arrangements with numerous consumers who chose to plan funerals in advance. These arrangements were reflected in pre-need funeral contracts, which are subject to Board regulations. The complaint alleges that the defendants failed to purchase pre-need insurance policies or establish funeral trust accounts for more than 60 consumers with losses totaling more than $342,000.
Since Ryder Funeral Home closed, the defendants have also delayed granting permission to consumers to select a new beneficiary on whole life insurance policies in cases where consumers had previously selected Ryder Funeral Home.
The AG’s lawsuit is seeking restitution for consumers, civil penalties, attorneys’ fees and costs. Consumers who believe they have been harmed by the defendants can contact the Attorney General’s Office at 617-727-8400, or DPL’s consumer hotline at 413-735-6296.
This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Ann E. Lynch of AG Coakley’s Western Massachusetts and Consumer Protection Divisions with assistance from Civil Investigator Richard Steward and Paralegal Sharon Coles, and from the Division of Professional Licensure.