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Mortuary Settles Embalming Suit : Consumer affairs: Ray Family firm will pay state and county $45,000 but admits no guilt. It was accused of forging death certificates, other improper practices.


SANTA ANA — A San Clemente mortuary, accused of improperly conducting embalmings, agreed Tuesday to pay $45,000 in legal costs and penalties to the state Department of Consumer Affairs, the Orange County district attorney's office announced.

Without admitting any wrongdoing, the Ray Family Mortuary also agreed to a permanent injunction aimed at preventing improper embalmings and to unannounced inspections by the Consumer Affairs Department, Deputy Dist. Atty. Jane L. Shade said.

The mortuary and its operator, William Morrison Ray, were charged with procuring forged death certificates before the embalmings between 1989 and 1991, Shade said.

During the same time period, she said, at least 14 embalmings were performed without authorization from family members of the deceased, and at least 45 embalmings were done without the supervision and presence of a licensed embalmer.

Of the $45,000 paid by the mortuary, $27,000 will go to the county as a civil penalty and $18,000 will go to the state consumer agency to cover the cost of the investigation, Shade said.

James S. Van Dam, the mortuary's attorney, said the dispute arose when, "unbeknownst to my client, one of the people who was doing the embalming was not licensed," in violation of state regulations.

In addition, Van Dam said, the mortuary couldn't locate some required authorizations for embalmings or, in two cases, verify doctors' signatures on death certificates when state investigators requested them.

"We're not sure what happened," Van Dam said.

The Ray Family Mortuary and its parent company, Sheffer Mortuary Inc., are also defendants in a second, much larger Orange County lawsuit, a class action involving up to 54,000 plaintiffs. In that suit, which is still in the early stages of litigation, a number of crematories and funeral homes in Orange County and elsewhere in Southern California have been accused of mishandling cremations over a 10-year period.

A third civil suit involving an Orange County mortuary, Harbor Lawn Memorial Park, is scheduled to go to a jury later this year.

In that case, the jury will be asked to divide the costs of a multimillion-dollar settlement among four insurance companies, a judge has ruled.

Harbor Lawn was sued in the early 1980s for performing multiple human cremations and commingling the remains. Before the park declared bankruptcy in 1987, about 200 lawsuits were filed.

Without admitting any wrongdoing, four companies that insured Harbor Lawn during the period covered by the lawsuits agreed in 1987 to a settlement of more than $15 million, most of which has since been paid out.

However, the four insurance companies then filed suits against one another over a disputed $25 million in legal fees.

Orange County Superior Court Judge William F. Rylaarsdam ruled in April that a jury will have to decide how much Ohio Casualty Insurance Co. owes Centennial Insurance Co., United Pacific Co. and Royal Insurance Co.

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