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Dismissal of Holocaust Case Rejected

Litigation: Federal judge turns down Italian, Swiss insurance firms, who argued U.S. was not proper venue for claim on Nazi-era policies.

September 26, 2002|From Reuters

NEW YORK — A federal court Wednesday rejected efforts of Italian and Swiss insurance companies to dismiss a case by Holocaust victims and surviving family members seeking payments on Nazi-era insurance policies.

Italian insurance company Assicurazioni Generali SpA and Zurich Life Insurance Co. of Switzerland sought to get a judge to dismiss the litigation, claiming that the United States was not the proper venue to decide the case.

Attorneys for the insurance companies argued that courts in European countries in which the policies were issued should be used to resolve the case. They also said a private commission--the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims--had been set up to deal with such issues.

But U.S. District Judge Michael Mukasey rejected those arguments, ruling that the case could go forward in the United States.

The judge also found that the ICHEIC was not an adequate alternative forum for the resolution of the plaintiffs' claims, suggesting a possible conflict of interest on grounds that the commission was financially dependent on the European insurance companies.

"Today's decision represents a victory for the tens of thousands of persons whose parents or other relatives perished in the Holocaust, and who are the potential beneficiaries of insurance policies issued by Generali or Zurich Life," Morris Ratner, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a statement.

Ratner said his side was seeking not only payoffs of known insurance policies from the Nazi era but a full accounting of policies held by the insurance companies during the German campaign of genocide against Jews and others during World War II.

"There may be people who are heirs or beneficiaries who don't even know the policies existed," Ratner said.

Attorneys for the insurance companies were not immediately available to comment on Wednesday's rejection of their efforts to have the case dismissed.

Twelve cases involving one or more plaintiffs each were directly affected by the ruling, Ratner said. But the attorney said he planned to move for certification of a plaintiff class that could allow many more people to have their claims resolved in this U.S. court.

However, he said that a trial was still a long way off.

"There are many hurdles along the way between now and trial," Ratner said of Wednesday's developments, "but it's definitely a good sign."

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