Profits of Death

Issue No. 7 ©1999/Darryl J. Roberts September 1998

Additional/Back Issues

Dear website visitor,

We are pleased that the litigation has been dropped.  For background on this issue, please refer to the articles previously published on the SCI lawsuit against us.

Darryl J. Roberts

Lawsuit Dropped!

SCI, the largest death care provider in the world, and its chairman, Robert Waltrip, sued both my publisher (Five Star Publications, Inc.) and me for defamation because of the following quote in my book (page 140): "SCI chairman and chief executive officer, Robert L. Waltrip, said it’s his goal to turn SCI into ‘the True Value Hardware of the funeral-service industry.’" Later, the suit was expanded to include remarks I made on the CBS television program 60 Minutes.

Several weeks ago, the federal judge in the case dismissed all of the defamation charges against my publisher and me. SCI has now dropped all of their charges of slander in relation to my appearance on 60 Minutes.

I never doubted that this case would not go to court, or even get to the point of deposing the principles about the facts surrounding the case. In my opinion, the whole affair was a classic example of the death care industry once again attempting to "kill the messenger." Whenever the truth about the industry emerges, their leaders begin a campaign to attack whomever the messenger is with little or no concern for the facts involved.

It must be devastating for the industry to think that the public may actually learn what the industry does to misinform them. On the one hand, all industry participants say that they want the public to be informed. At the same time, however, they do everything possible to keep this information away from the public.

Several months ago, the FOX television network invited me to appear with a death care representative for a prime time discussion of the facts of my book and the industry in general. This was an opportunity for the industry to give its side of the story in an open forum to a national audience. Robert Waltrip was invited and declined. The National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) was then invited but refused to send an "official" representative. The NFDA did offer to send an unofficial representative, but that was unacceptable to the FOX producers because he was not an official representative.

Apparently when confronted with someone intimately knowledgeable of the death care business, their willingness to inform the public takes a backseat to protecting their profits. It’s a shame that someone was not willing to come forward and give the public the information they so richly deserve.

It is interesting that a company as large as SCI would waste its stockholders’ profits on a lawsuit as frivolous as the one just dropped. SCI put everything at risk with absolutely no chance of winning. Surely their competent legal counsel must have advised them of their odds of winning before filing the suit. Yet they persisted. While there was never any doubt about the outcome of this case, we were actually looking forward to deposing all of the SCI leaders in order to discover even more information. We wanted to know:

  • Exactly how much they raised prices when they purchased new facilities
  • How they actually accounted for income from their many trust funds
  • Exactly how much profit they received from their practice of accruing interment fee income.

There were a lot more questions we wanted answered. We were confident, however, that they were never going to allow their executives to be forced to answer under oath all that we wanted to know. The consumers would have had more information than the industry wanted to give.

SCI’s stockholders should now ask the hard questions of the company’s management that risked so much with little or no chance of winning.

While I am glad that the suit is over, I am at the same time disappointed that we did not get to ask the questions and disseminate the information.

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