Judge Buries a Libel Suit Against VT Funeral Advocates | News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Judge Buries a Libel Suit Against VT Funeral Advocates


Published August 5, 2009 at 2:56 p.m.

Looks like Vermont's homegrown death-industry watchdogs have hammered another nail into the coffin of high-priced funerals. According to the Detroit Metro Times' "news blawg", a federal judge last week dismissed a defamation lawsuit filed against Lisa Carlson, executive director of the Funeral Ethics Organization of Hinesburg and a nationally acclaimed author and advocate for do-it-yourself home funerals.

As Seven Days reported back in October, Michigan funeral director and nationally acclaimed author Thomas Lynch — yeah, that's his real name — filed a libel suit against Carlson, the Funeral Ethics Organization and The Funeral Consumers Alliance of South Burlington. Lynch, whose family owns half a dozen mortuaries in southeastern Michigan, alleged that the defendants libeled him and his family business by branding him "a liar" in print and accusing him of "breaking the law" in his dealings with three Michigan families. Lynch's suit claimed he'd suffered $75,000 in damages which, coincidentally, is the minimum amount of damages necessary to file a claim of this kind in federal court.

But a federal judge disagreed with Lynch, ruling that Carlson's critique didn't rise to the level of "actual malice" necessary to qualify for dissing a public figure, such as he is. Lynch, who wrote The Undertaking: Life Studies in the Dismal Trade and was the subject of a PBS/Frontline special by the same name, often speaks around the country to community groups and funeral-industry folks about how to improve their public image and their bottom line.