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Appeals Court Says Insurers in State Must Reveal Holocaust-Era Policies

July 16, 2002|KAREN GULLO | BLOOMBERG NEWS

Insurers in California must disclose information about policies they wrote in Europe during the Holocaust, a federal appeals court in San Francisco said.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected claims by the American Insurance Assn., Gerling Global Reinsurance Corp. of America and other insurers that a California law requiring companies to turn over information about Holocaust-era policies was unconstitutional.

"A request for information is simply not equivalent to a direct regulation of out-of-state transactions," the court said in an opinion published Monday.

The decision means multinational and domestic insurers doing business in California must disclose the names of people who bought Holocaust-era policies and whether payments were made on claims. Companies that don't comply with the 1999 Holocaust Victim Insurance Relief Act could lose their license in the state.

David Smith, an attorney for Gerling, and Nicole Mahrt, a spokeswoman at the American Insurance Assn., said they were reviewing the decision.

California's insurance commissioner, Harry Low, was thrilled with the decision, a spokeswoman said.

"It's our hope that now the insurance companies will comply as the statute required them to," said Nancy Kramer, a spokeswoman for Low.

Kramer said 2,300 claims from Holocaust survivors or their descendants are pending in California. The state has a few hundred names of policyholders from five insurance firms that voluntarily turned them over and from a private insurance research company.

The case will go back to the federal district court, which halted the law from being enforced two years ago.

Advocates for Holocaust victims called on insurers to directly disclose the names of policyholders.

"We have been urging since Day 1 that the insurance companies simply release last names, first names" and countries where the policies were issued, said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.

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