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Cemetery Fraud Results in a Million Dollar Judgment

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An Alabama jury awarded $1 million to a Prattville physician who sued a local cemetery for breach of contract because cemetery officials reduced the size of a 16-plot parcel the doctor bought in 1976 for $1,595.

According to an Associated Press news article posted in the Decatur Daily, the jury decided against the owners of Prattville Memory Gardens, awarding the plaintiffs the highest damages recorded in Decatur county for such a lawsuit — $80,000 in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages.

The physician, Dr. W. E. “Gene” Patterson, who plans to be buried in the plot, bought it 31 years ago as an “estate plot” from the former owner of the business. Patterson had envisioned it as a family memorial with concrete walkways, a large family marker and landscaping, the article said. The doctor, who told the reporter that he was surprised at the jury’s verdict, said he was happy that the cemetery owners have been penalized and held liable for breach of contract and fraud.

What Patterson says happened here was that once the new owners bought the cemetery in the 1990s, they redrew the property boundaries and reduced the size of the plots. The owners argued in court that they cannot be liable for a contract made before they took ownership of the cemetery and that the former owner should be held responsible. But obviously the jury disagreed.

I think this case must have hit a nerve with the jury because this is an issue most of us are going to face at some point in our lives. When Patterson bought the plot in 1976, it was obviously marketed as an estate plot and that’s what he paid for at the time. To change the layout of the cemetery and shortchange him in the process is simply unacceptable.

Jurors have also made a bold statement by upping the punitive damages in a county where court observers say even $100,000 awards are rare. It just shows how strongly the jury felt about it. They wanted to teach the cemetery owners a lesson and send a message to others who may be tempted to do the same.

At Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys, we have seen an increase in cemetery and funeral home negligence. Owners of these facilities, who ought to behave with more sensitivity and humaneness, seem to care more about making money and cutting corners. Their consumers, such as this doctor in Alabama, end up getting shortchanged and defrauded. Don’t let this happen to you. Call me for a free, absolutely confidential consultation. John Bisnar, 800-259-6373.

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