U.S. Court Backs Calif. Law on Holocaust Issue

Commissioner Low was very gratified with the decision. From his perspective, this is a time-sensitive issue because some of these survivors are dying every day,” said Nanci Kramer, a spokesperson with the California Department of Insurance, when asked how Insurance Commissioner Harry Low reacted to a recent U.S. federal appeals court ruling that upheld a California law requiring insurers to divulge policies dating from the Holocaust era, a measure which brought on protests from the German and Swiss governments. The ruling, however, may not be the final stop on this sensitive issue.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a 3-0 decision that California’s Holocaust Victim Insurance Relief Act of 1999 was constitutional, overruling a lower court injunction which had prevented enforcement of the measure.

The California law would require insurers to provide information about policies sold in Europe between 1920 and 1945 as a manner to provide for recovery of lost insurance claims.

Both Germany and Switzerland registered protests with the U.S. State Department over California’s attempt to regulate the conduct of foreign insurers over policies written in those nations, while a number of insurers and the American Insurance Association have sued to block enforcement of the law, which includes a provision revoking the license of any company that does not comply.

The California Department of Insurance, which has about 2,300 individual Holocaust-era claims pending, added that time is of the essence in having insurers comply with this ruling.

“We owe it to them (survivors) to get them as much information as possible to help them get satisfaction on this issue,” Kramer remarked.

Among the insurers that have challenged the law are American Re-Insurance Co., a unit of Germany’s Munich Re (MUVGn), Gerling Global Re-Insurance Corporation of America, Assicurazioni Generali SpA (GASI) and Winterthur International American Insurance Co., affiliated with Credit Suisse Group (CSGZn).

Nicole Mahrt, public affairs director western region, for the American Insurance Association, said, “Our first reaction is we need to take a look at this ruling and see what our options are. We still think the decision undermines some established constitutional issues. The 9th Circuit is penalizing California licensed insurers based on their affiliation. Many of these companies didn’t write these policies. It’s a complicated issue.”