A federal judge on Thursday tossed out 20 lawsuits accusing an insurance company of not paying benefits to victims of the Holocaust. U.S. District Judge Michael Mukasey claimed the lawsuits are pre-empted by the U.S. government’s policy of attempting to resolve such claims through a special commission.
Filed in four states – New York, Wisconsin, Florida and California by Holocaust survivors and their heirs – the class-action lawsuits claimed Italian-based Assicurazioni Generali refused to honor policies held by victims of the World War II-era genocide.
In light of the dismissal, William Shernoff of Shernoff Bidart & Darras LLP made the following statement:
“It’s a sad day for justice when Holocaust survivors are denied access to American courts in their life-long struggle to collect on life insurance policies long overdue from Generali, an Italian insurance company.
“The recent ruling by a federal court stated that such lawsuits interfere with the President’s foreign relations power and thus the President has the authority to extinguish all legal claims bearing on national foreign relations. Holocaust survivors cannot understand how their simple lawsuits to collect life insurance benefits from a private company can possibly interfere with President Bush’s ability to conduct foreign affairs with Italy. Holocaust survivors think that’s absurd.
“It is apparent that the federal judge believed the U.S. Supreme Court case of American Insurance Association v. Garamendi tied his hands in dealing with Holocaust survivor claims. The federal judge ruled that all Holocaust survivors must file their claims with ICHEIC, a Commission set up to deal with Holocaust survivor claims. However, ICHEIC was labeled ‘the company store’ by the same federal judge in an earlier decision on the same issue. This decision prevents Holocaust survivors from exercising their Constitutional right to a trial by jury in favor of filing their claim with ‘the company store.’
“The International Commission (ICHEIC) was set up in part by Generali and funded in part by Generali, and the Commission’s chairman is paid $350,000 by Generali and other insurance carriers. ICHEIC has only offered the survivors I represent a small fraction of what they are owed under the life insurance policies.
“Naturally, we will appeal the ruling for Holocaust survivors and their families.”
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