CHARLESTON — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey's ofiice has announced a settlement with a Putnam County funeral home and its owners.
According to the settlement, Gatens-Harding Funeral Home Inc. will be forced to discontinue a significant portion of its business as part of a settlement, which also subjects the business to increased monitoring and additional sanctions.
The lawsuit, filed in September 2015, alleged Gatens-Harding and owners Chad Harding and Billie Harding cashed in on preneed funeral contracts before the deaths of the consumers.
“Our office prides itself on making sure businesses respect state law,” Morrisey said in a Feb. 22 statement. “Preneed funeral contracts are attractive to many consumers. Funeral homes offering that service must protect consumers and do so in a lawful manner.”
The settlement permanently prohibits Gatens-Harding, as well as any related business owned or operated by Chad or Billie Harding, from selling preneed funeral contracts or accepting payments for funeral services prior to the death of the intended person.
Gatens-Harding also must cooperate in conducting a prompt audit of all existing preneed funeral plans. The Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division will contact consumers identified in the audit and give them the option to transfer their preneed contracts to a different funeral home.
The Attorney General’s Office also will subject any preneed contracts that remain with Gatens-Harding to increased monitoring. That will involve audits six months and 12 months after the initial audit, in addition to annual audits thereafter. Such contracts are typically audited once every three years.
The settlement is independent from any other administrative, licensing or prosecutorial matters between Gatens-Harding and its owners with other individuals and/or government agencies.
The business and its owners also will pay $25,000 to cover the state’s investigation into the matter, as required by the settlement.
The funeral home also was the defendant in a federal lawsuit filed by Homesteaders Life Insurance Company. Last year, the Hardings were ordered to pay almost $3 million to the insurer for cashing in on the pre-need contracts. In December, that was paid by Clay Holding Company LLC of Belle.