NAFTA Panel Rules Against Funeral Home

An international tribunal has found in favor of the United States in a lawsuit brought by The Loewen Group. The Loewen group tried to use a NAFTA provision to seek 725 million dollars from the United States over a 1995 Mississippi jury award in favor of a Biloxi Funeral home.

The case was decided Thursday by a North American Free Trade Agreement tribunal in Washington. If Canada-based Loewen had won, U.S. taxpayers could be liable for paying the judgment. No appeal is allowed after the panel rules. The Loewen Group is now known as Alderwoods Group Incorporated, with corporate offices in Cincinnati and executive offices in Toronto. It brought the arbitration claim in 1998. Loewen claimed it was discriminated against when the Hinds County jury awarded Biloxi funeral home business owner Jerry O'Keefe the 500 million dollars. The corporation said it was coerced to settle the case for 175 million dollars because it would have been forced to post a 625 million dollars bond to appeal.

The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled Loewen would be required to put up the appeal bond. Alderwoods Group officials were not immediately available for comment on the decision. The tribunal, which included representatives from the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom, found Loewen failed to show a violation of NAFTA. The tribunal also said Loewen had not exhausted its remedies under U.S. law. The tribunal was critical of the Mississippi court decision, but said it would not intervene for The Loewen Group.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)