Cole v. Laugherty Funeral Home

On March 22, 2005, the Appellate Division rendered an important decision that will effect the way the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act is applied. That case, Cole v. Laugherty Funeral Home involved an allegation that a funeral home violated the Consumer Fraud Act when it followed the instructions of part of the decedent’s family not to permit certain members of the family to attend the viewing.

The case involved a feuding family whose relatives were murdered. The decedent’s children from a later marriage planned the decedents entire funeral. Pursuant to their instructions, the children excluded certain family members of the previous marriage from the viewing. Despite that fact, the obituary for the decedents set forth that there would be a public viewing. Those family members were excluded from the viewing when they came to pay their respects to the decedents. The excluded family members claimed that the misrepresentation (the public viewing) was a violation of the Consumer Fraud Act. The Appellate Court disagreed.

The Appellate Court affirmed the dismissal of the Consumer Fraud Claim because the Plaintiffs could not show that the funeral home made a misrepresentation to induce the buyer to make a purchase. The Plaintiffs did not purchase any goods or services from the funeral home.

Finally, the Cole Court held that “emotional damages” cannot be recovered under the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act. The Cole Court reasoned that under that statute a damaged party could only recover “ascertainable losses” – not emotional damages.