Casket Sales Mean Big Bucks for Funeral Homes

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Does the funeral-home industry have a death grip on casket sales?

A lawsuit in Louisiana claims that family members can be fleeced because they are not about to shop around. It’s a monopoly on the casket racket, according to the suit.

Jerry Womack, an independent casket maker, said he tried to sell caskets in Louisiana, but received a letter from the Funeral Home Directors and Embalmers Association saying he was violating state law.

Only funeral homes can sell caskets, the group said. So Womack filed suit.

"With the Louisiana law, it has a tremendous penalty for violation. It takes the public's right of choice away from them," Womack said.

It’s not just an issue in Cajun country. A suit is pending in Oklahoma, where others are fighting to overturn laws that prohibit the independent sale of caskets.

The laws remain unchallenged in Virginia and South Carolina, and a handful of states have similar laws that are generally not enforced. Several other states have overturned their similar laws.

As a result of a casket-law repeal, the Direct Casket Outlet opened, selling caskets at a drastically reduced price. The repeal proved to be a boon for families in Kansas City, Mo.

"We're talking about $3,695 vs. $1,400 for exactly the same product," Womack said.

Even the National Funeral Directors Association leans away from restrictive laws.

"I think it's a good thing that consumers can compare prices," a spokesman told the Fox News Channel. "Competition by and large makes business, products and services better."

So what’s the problem? State associations like the old laws, some say.

The Funeral Home Directors and Embalmers Association of Louisiana refused to comment for this story.

But before the dearly departed arrive at a Louisiana cemetery, their families will definitely be speaking with them.