Court Rejects Generali, Zurich Life Contentions in Holocaust Claims Lawsuit

September 26, 2002

A federal court in New York has ruled that a lawsuit brought by Holocaust victims and their families against Italian insurer Generali and Switzerland’s Zurich Life Insurance Co. can go forward in the U.S. court.

The companies had sought dismissal of the lawsuit on the grounds that the U.S. was an improper venue for the case, and that the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims (ICHEC) was the appropriate form to handle the claims. The policies in question were issued in Europe in the pre-World War II era, and the lawsuit seeks payments to the survivors and their families who became victims of the Holocaust.

Judge Michael Mukasey ruled that the U.S. court had jurisdiction over the dispute as a large number of the claimants were resident in the U.S. He rejected the contention that the ICHEC was the only form that could handle Holocaust claims, indicating that as the Commission was dependent for its funding on agreements with the insurance companies, there could be a possible conflict of interest.

The ICHEC recently concluded an agreement with German, Austrian, Swiss and Dutch insurers to provide around $100 million to settle unpaid life insurance claims, and an additional $174 million to set up a special fund for general payments based on humanitarian concerns. (See IJ Website Sept.19)

Judge Mukasey’s ruling raises problems for insurers such as Generali, who have joined the ICHEC. One of the primary reasons for doing so is the agreement that Holocaust related lawsuits, which have been brought in many state and federal courts, will be stayed while the Commission examines and eventually pays claims.

While the insurance companies have not commented on the ruling, Reuters News Agency reported that the plaintiff’s attorney, Morris Ratner, hoped to expand the 12 cases he has filed so far into a class action, and would also seek a “full accounting” of World War II era policies issued by the companies, which may not have been paid.

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