Cover Your Tail – Toby Sutton
Toby Sutton is an Embalmer/ Funeral Director at Emerson Funeral Home in Jonesboro, Arkansas. He graduated from Weiner High School in 1996, University of Arkansas at Monticello in 2000 with a BA in English, Arkansas State University-Jonesboro in 2002 with an MA in English, and Arkansas State University-Mountain Home in 2003 with an Associate of Applied Science in Funeral Service. He was an adjunct instructor in the Mortuary Science Program at Mountain Home for two years before moving back to his hometown. He is active in the Northeast Arkansas Funeral Director Club, being a past president, and is also a member of the American Society of Embalmers. He works full time and likes to write about funeral service on the side. He still lives in his hometown.
Within the past few years, Arkansas decided to change the death certificate. The previous death certificate required the embalmer who embalmed the body to sign the death certificate. The new one does not. All it asks for is the embalmer?s name and license number. This may sound like it is no big deal, and most of the time, it will not be. However, with the computer programs that are being used to generate death certificate, once a funeral home has your name and license number, they can just select it from a pull-down menu. Again, this doesn?t seem like a big deal, and most of the time, hopefully it isn?t.
However, say that you have done some trade work for a funeral home. They do not have a licensed embalmer on staff, and you have done a couple of bodies for them. The relationship between you and the funeral home becomes strained, or they decide that they don?t have the money to pay a trade embalmer. On the old death certificate in Arkansas , they would have to forge your signature to file a death certificate. Now, they just have to enter it on the computer, print it, and the certificate is ready to file. The funeral home makes errors with the family, and the family decides to sue. They also want to sue for poor embalming. Whose tail is on the line? It would be yours because your name is on a certified, legal document. You have no idea who embalmed the body, but you didn?t do it. Sounds like tough luck to me.
I say all this to say, be sure that you always cover your tail. Do a detailed case report EVERY time you embalm. Include things in your case report that will allow you to testify with certainty. Remember, if it isn?t documented, it didn?t happen. When I was in mortuary school, I was taught in Mortuary Law that funeral homes are target defendants and the judgment has several zeros.
I try to do my case reports as soon as I am finished with an embalming. I keep a copy of the case report in the deceased?s file at the office, and I keep one at home. There are detailed case reports that you can find online. A simple narrative is not going to cut it.
You will need to do a case report that allows you to place the amounts of different fluids that were used. There must be some way from your case report that the solution strength can be determined. You need to identify certain pre-embalming conditions, such as edema, renal failure, trauma, scars, etc. Make your case report as specific as you can.
I write this because it seems that the only one that is going to try to protect you is you. Keep your records up to date. Keep them accurate. Remember, at all times, COVER YOUR TAIL.
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