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Your Obligation to Correct Erroneous Published Information (Part 1)

Posted by Atty. Harvey I. Lapin on November 4, 2015

  The American people often receive erroneous information from the media. Unfortunately, this information can cause problems for consumers that rely on the information. This, in turn, causes problems for industry members and sometimes private property owners. When erroneous information is published, it is up to members of the industry to contact the media to advise them of the misinformation. While some of the media has not been particularly friendly to the industry, it has been the author’s experience that ethical media representatives do not want to provide inaccurate information. Usually, the media will respond favorably when it is pointed out that published information is legally or factually inaccurate.

  Several years ago one of the popular advice columnists printed a series of letters from readers that contained erroneous and possibly information that violated state and federal laws and regulations. When the author contacted the columnist about the misinformation, he received a call with a request to provide the correct information to the columnist. Hopefully, subscribers will find the details of this experience helpful in dealing with situations of this kind in the future.


What Was Published In The Advice Columns?

  On May 7, 2001 columnist Pauline Phillips featured the following letter in her nationally syndicated column known as “Dear Abby”:



  I am in my mid-50s and recently married a wonderful man after dating him for four years. He is a widower. Years ago, he purchased a gravesite marker with his name and birthdate, as well as his late wife’s name and dates, and “Together Forever” inscribed on it. I should mention that they were married for 25 years and had a child together.

  In pre-planning my own funeral, we have decided that I will be cremated and my urn will rest in his plot. I will have a marker of my own a little lower on the plot than his right above my urn.

  I’m considering having “The Rest of the Story” placed on my marker as a humorous comment. Plus, it makes me feel included in his life--and death. Other sayings come to mind, but this one felt just right.

  Do you or your readers have any suggestions as to how to handle the trio of bodies and marker sayings? I want to be with him forever, and I respect that his late wife felt the same way. Sign me…



DEAR JUST BEGINNING: You could have also inscribed it, “…and Ever,” or, “Hopefully, The Last Chapter,” in case you pre-decease him. Before investing in a marker with a humorous inscription, you’d be wise to see how your husband’s “child” feels about it.


  In another column on May 31, 2001 the following was published:



DEAR ABBY: The letter about a loved one's ashes touched me personally. Please accept one more letter on the subject.

Our 39-year-old son died a few years ago. Most of his ashes are buried in a veteran’s cemetery near his father.

My daughter wanted some of his ashes, and I have a little container of them on my shelf, along with a ceramic guardian angel.

We returned to our home state and, like the other mom, I scattered a few of his ashes on his beloved grandmother's grave. Then we went to the river where he loved to fish as a youngster, and I dropped some of the ashes along the river's edge. Abby, I'll never forget how they sparkled like diamonds as they settled to the bottom. We were amazed at the sight.

I was a bit conflicted about dividing the ashes, but after reading your columns and seeing those "diamonds" from my son, I knew it was OK. Thanks for letting me express my thoughts. –HIS MOM IN LAS VEGAS


DEAR MOM: You're welcome. I have received some terrific letters on the subject. If other grieving families can gain comfort from your letter, it was worth the space in my column. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: Driving was my father's greatest joy and source of pride. He founded, chaired and belonged to several local sports car clubs.

His wish upon his death was to donate every usable organ, including his brain, to Parkinson's disease research, then to be cremated.

His sister (my aunt) asked to bury his ashes on their parents' gravesite. Although I knew this would not be his preference, I agreed in order to bring her some comfort. But first, I spread a few of his ashes near every exotic and sports car dealership – Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, Alfa-Romeo, etc. – in our area. I also keep a small vial of his ashes in my glove compartment. I'm nowhere near the driver he was, but at least he's still spending a fair amount of time on the road. –HUB WHEELMAN'S DAUGHTER


DEAR DAUGHTER: From your description of your father, he was also a driving force while he was alive. Read on:


DEAR ABBY: When my beloved wife died at a young age, I couldn't bring myself to have her placed in a box and dropped in a hole. We were truly free spirits. Our love developed while sky-diving. We were married in a hot-air balloon. She went on to receive her own pilot's license to fly balloons, and then broke a world's record.

Less than a year later, she died – not from parachuting or ballooning, but from cancer.

I had her cremated and watched the process, for it was best for closure. Her ashes were divided in two -- one half released in front of our home off Marina Del Rey. The other half was released from her balloon in the high desert where she broke the record. Whenever I see the desert or the ocean, I see her, and she is smiling. –GEORGE E., CARMEL BY THE SEA


DEAR GEORGE E.: I'm sure she's smiling because you did exactly what she wanted. Read on:


DEAR ABBY: When I read the letter about the widower who wore his wife's ashes in a vial around his neck while making love to his subsequent lady friend, my response was, "I wish I could be married to a man that devoted to me."

My female co-worker's response: "At that age, she should be glad she's getting sex. She should IGNORE the vial!" –DEVOTED READER, ALTOONA, PA


DEAR DEVOTED: Funn-ee! How little your co-worker knows about mature women – I wonder if she'll still feel that way when she's a little older.”


  Unfortunately, these letters and the responses indicated some factual problems about cremations as well as potential violations of state and federal laws and regulations. The issues and problems will be discussed in Part 2 of this article.

  This article is for the information of subscribers and does not constitute legal advice. All subscribers should accordingly consult with their own attorney to make sure they are in compliance with the legal requirements for their own companies in the states where they operate.


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