$175M Holocaust Insurance Settlement with Generali Moves Forward

January 10, 2008

For the second time, a U.S. judge approved a settlement this week among Holocaust victims, their heirs and an Italian insurer, turning aside objections from a few victims who believe the company is getting off easy.

Saying the settlement was “fair, reasonable and adequate,” U.S. District Judge George B. Daniels ended more than a decade of litigation over the claim that Assicurazioni Generali refused to honor policies held by victims of the World War II-era genocide.

The lawsuit in Manhattan federal court was among nearly two dozen that were thrown out in 2004 by then U.S. District Judge Michael Mukasey, who said the class-action suits were pre-empted by the U.S. government’s policy of trying to resolve such claims through a special commission. Mukasey is now U.S. attorney general.

The cases were eventually settled, with Generali agreeing to pay some $175 million (euro119 million) to survivors and their relatives through the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims and other channels.

Last year, Daniels approved the settlement, but a federal appeals court returned the case to him in October, ordering potential class members be notified by mail of the settlement.

At a Jan. 7 hearing, lawyers for the class members and Generali told Daniels that the requirements set by the appeals court had been met by the mailing of 50,000 copies of the class notice and by fresh postings about new deadlines on the Internet.

“This settlement embraces all persons, not just particular religious groups, who were persecuted by the Germans during World War II,” said Robert Swift, a lawyer for victims who agree with the settlement.

He said the mailings had resulted in 5,500 new claims, though some of them were duplicates filed by people who had filed claims previously.

But Samuel Dubbin, a lawyer for several victims objecting to the plan, said Generali was getting off easy with the deal because the company had made at least $2 billion (euro1.36 billion) by claiming it could no longer locate adequate records from so long ago.

He said insurance companies during World War II helped the Germans locate Jewish families and told them what they owned. “The companies turned their customer lists over to the killers,” he said.

Dubbin said the company should be forced to defend itself at trial and to pay punitive damages.

The judge, though, told Dubbin that rejecting the settlement to revive a case that had already been thrown out by a district judge was offering Holocaust survivors “speculation or hopeful or optimistic scenarios.”

The settlement would end the last of the large cases brought in American courts to get money from companies responsible for aiding Nazis during the Holocaust.

Those companies have been accused of enabling the cheating of Jews, forced laborers and slaves of their assets, including insurance policies, during World War II.


On the Net:

International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims: http://www.icheic.org

International Tracing Service: http://www.its-arolsen.org

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