The Understanding of Funeral Processions: "It Affects Us All."

Posted By: Cedricjuan D Wilson Sr. Funeral Profession Blog, News,

The Understanding of Funeral Processions:

“It Affects Us All.”

Image of a Funeral Procession

Photo Credit: Buurserstraat38 on Depositphotos

By Cedricjuan "CJ" Wilson Sr., JM, MPA, LFD

Member, IFDF PR/Outreach Committee

The laws in the State of Florida are easy to understand, but most individuals who do not work in the funeral profession do understand these laws. Depending on the individual you ask will dictate the answer. How many of us have been in a funeral procession and traffic continues to drive and not yield the right of way to the procession? To have a detailed understanding of what the law states, I would recommend speaking with legal counsel.  Some law enforcement agencies in the State of Florida do not provide escort services for funeral homes, so therefore, the funeral director and the independent funeral home must have a common working knowledge of this statute. 

Florida Statutes 316.1974 gives general information for the funeral director to be well informed. The first part of the statute gives definition of each term: 

(b) “Funeral procession” means two or more vehicles accompanying the body of a deceased person, or traveling to the church, chapel, or other location at which the funeral service is to be held, in the daylight hours, including a funeral lead vehicle or a funeral escort vehicle.

(c) “Funeral lead vehicle” means any authorized law enforcement or non-law enforcement motor vehicle properly equipped pursuant to subsection (2) or a funeral escort vehicle being used to lead and facilitate the movement of a funeral procession. A funeral hearse may serve as a funeral lead vehicle.

(d) “Funeral escort” means a person or entity that provides escort services for funeral processions, including law enforcement personnel and agencies.

(e) “Funeral escort vehicle” means any motor vehicle that is properly equipped pursuant to subsection (2), and which escorts a funeral procession.

It should be common knowledge to all funeral service practitioners that when traveling in a funeral procession that the escort light should be at least amber or purple. Purple has been identified as the most common light used with most funeral homes and funeral directors. Funeral procession right-of-way; funeral escort vehicles; funeral lead vehicles.

(a) Regardless of any traffic control device or right-of-way provisions prescribed by state or local ordinance, pedestrians, and operators of all vehicles, except as stated in paragraph (c), shall yield the right-of-way to any vehicle which is part of a funeral procession being led by a funeral escort vehicle or a funeral lead vehicle.

(b) When the funeral lead vehicle lawfully enters an intersection, either by reason of a traffic control device or at the direction of law enforcement personnel, the remaining vehicles in the funeral procession may follow through the intersection regardless of any traffic control devices or right-of-way provisions prescribed by state or local law.

(c) Funeral processions shall have the right-of-way at intersections regardless of traffic control devices, subject to the following conditions and exceptions: 

1. Operators of vehicles in a funeral procession shall yield the right-of-way to an approaching emergency vehicle giving an audible or visible signal.

2. Operators of vehicles in a funeral procession shall yield the right-of-way when directed to do so by a police officer.

3. Operators of vehicles in a funeral procession must exercise due care when participating in a funeral procession. 

4. Driving in procession:

(a) All vehicles comprising a funeral procession shall follow the preceding vehicle in the funeral procession as closely as is practical and safe.

(b) Any ordinance, law, or regulation stating that motor vehicles shall be operated to allow sufficient space, enabling any other vehicle to enter and occupy such space without danger shall not be applicable to vehicles in a funeral procession.

(c) Each vehicle which is part of a funeral procession shall have its headlights, either high or low beam, and tail lights lighted and may also use the flashing hazard lights if the vehicle is so equipped.

Liability is one of the biggest topics that each particular funeral director or funeral home tries to avoid at all costs, but in today’s society, there is always potential of some form of civil litigation. The most important part of the statute is the liability portion:

a) Liability for any death, personal injury, or property damage suffered on or after October 1, 1997, by any person in a funeral procession shall not be imposed upon the funeral director or funeral establishment or their employees or agents unless such death, personal injury, or property damage is proximately caused by the negligent or intentional act of an employee or agent of the funeral director or funeral establishment.

(b) A funeral director, funeral establishment, funeral escort, or other participant that leads, organizes, or participates in a funeral procession in accordance with this section shall be presumed to have acted with reasonable care.

(c) Except for a grossly negligent or intentional act by a funeral director or funeral establishment, there shall be no liability on the part of a funeral director or funeral establishment for failing, on or after October 1, 1997, to use reasonable care in the planning or selection of the route to be followed by the funeral procession.

There are two cases with two different conclusions that have taken place in Florida that deal with funeral procession and duty of care. McCorvery v. Smith 411 So.2d 273 and Union Park Memorial Chapel, et al., vs. Hutt, et al. 670 So 2d 64.  In McCorvery, the Court stated that, “The court affirmed dismissal of appellants' negligence complaint with prejudice because Florida law did not impose a duty upon a funeral director to control traffic at an intersection during a funeral procession. The funeral director was only under a duty to ensure that the lead car in the funeral procession lawfully entered into the intersection.

In Hutt, the Court stated, “The court held that a funeral director who voluntarily undertook to organize and lead a funeral procession owed a duty of reasonable care to procession participants, though a funeral director statutorily had no general duty to lead funeral processions.” Although these cases both deal with funeral procession accidents and both have different outcomes, it should be noted that both of these cases are over a decade old but could be used as precedence in future cases.

It should be noted that in Hutt the courts also stated, “We recognize that a funeral director has no general duty to orchestrate or lead a funeral procession. However, once a director voluntarily undertakes to do so, the director assumes at least a minimal duty to exercise good judgment and ensure that procession members proceed to the cemetery in a safe manner. Whether a funeral director exercised reasonable care in a given case will depend on the circumstances of that case; and, therefore, must be determined on a case-by-case basis by the trier of fact. Understanding Florida Statute 316.1974 is the key to understanding how to protect your funeral establishment and the families that we serve without any causing any unnecessary burden to anyone. 

As funeral directors understanding the law is helpful. If we show that we are going above and beyond to do our due diligence, this will protect the funeral director, funeral home and its agents. If you are unsuccessful in obtaining law enforcement escorts and the family is requiring a procession, you will need to have at minimum 3 vehicles with the funeral home to assist in escorting the funeral procession from Point A to Point B and to make sure that those vehicles are properly outfitted with the recommended lighting and signage, to clearly identify that they are leading and escorting a funeral procession.