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Supreme Court Rejects Holocaust Survivors' Insurance Appeal

Late last month, a group of Holocaust survivors' efforts to have their dispute with an Italian life insurance company heard in court ended in defeat when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear their appeal. It was the second time the lead plaintiff had petitioned the Court to appeal his claim. Now it appears that only Congress can act to allow the survivors to sue the insurance company. There they face millions of dollars in insurance company lobbying.

The plaintiff, a doctor from Miami Beach, has tried for years to sue Assicurazioni Generali in Florida state court. His father survived the Holocaust, but his first wife and three children all died in Nazi death camps. After the war, when the plaintiff's father tried to collect on a $50,000 policy, Assicurazioni Generali refused to pay on the claim.

A recent article about the case in the Miami Herald gives some background. The company rejected the claims of thousands more survivors and their descendents. In 1998, an international insurance commission was set up to settle life insurance claims stemming from the Holocaust. However, some claimants did not want to settle for the lowered payments that the commission offered, and sued Assicurazioni Generali in a class action. That suit was settled in 2007, but still left hundreds of policy holders unsatisfied.

The Court did not give an explanation for its decision not to hear the case. According to the Herald article, the justices probably relied on a ruling it gave in 2003 that overturned a California law which required European insurance companies doing business in the state to disclose data about life insurance policies the companies they sold between 1920 and 1945. In its ruling on that case the Court held by a 5-4 vote that the president, not states, held the authority to conduct foreign policy, so that California had overstepped its bounds.

The plaintiff said that he was disappointed by the result, but vowed to continue fighting in every venue he can to get Assicurazioni Generali to pay on his family's policy. U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, has said she would push for a bill that would allow survivors to sue the Italian company in American courts. However, insurance industry lobbyists are major players in Washington, financed by millions of dollars from the insurance companies.

Resource: Miami Herald, "Holocaust survivors' appeal turned down," Jay Weaver, November 30, 2010

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