Local News

Wednesday, Apr 09 2014 06:18 PM

Attorney representing embattled mortuary said dispute stems from misunderstanding

By THE BAKERSFIELD CALIFORNIAN

The attorney representing a Lake Isabella mortuary that allegedly failed to provide prepaid burial services said Wednesday he expects it "will be fully vindicated," and contends the dispute stems from a misunderstanding of the pre-need arrangements and the complications of Medi-Cal eligibility requirements.

Barry Goldner, of Bakersfield law firm Klein DeNatale Goldner, said the mortuary owners and funeral director have filed a response denying the accusations.

A complaint filed by the state Attorney General's office asks that the license of Sierra Valley Mortuary, as well as the license of funeral director Brian Coates, be suspended or revoked for fraud and gross negligence.

The complaint states that Sierra Valley Mortuary buried a 91-year-old woman in her hospital gown and failed to perform cosmetology services and embalm her. The woman had paid $11,500 for pre-need funeral contracts that included those services.

Goldner said Sierra Valley spent about 45 days after the woman's death trying to find her family to discuss burial arrangements. By the time the relatives were found it was impossible to perform the exact services described in the contract.

The alternative services exceeded the full value of the contract, he said.

That contract, and another one in dispute, were purchased for individuals to reduce assets and qualify for Medi-Cal benefits, Goldner said.

There was money left over from the second contract because the deceased was cremated instead of buried. Because of Medi-Cal issues, returning the unused money could subject the decedent's estate to a reimbursement claim, Goldner said.

Sierra Valley has held the money while seeking guidance on how it should be handled.

"Our hope is that once all of the information is fully considered, the (Cemetery and Funeral Bureau) will agree that Sierra Valley appropriately fulfilled its responsibilities," he said.

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