Florida has seen its share of disputes over Holocaust-era life insurance claims. The cases stemmed from sales of life insurance policies to individuals of certain ethnic groups — Jews, for the most part — who subsequently died at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators. When surviving family members contacted them, though, the insurance companies denied the claims.
Sadly, the Holocaust was not the first time an ethnic group fell victim to genocide; neither is it the first example of life insurance companies balking at paying claims to victims of genocide.
During World War I, the Ottoman Empire targeted its Armenian population for extinction. Experts estimate that 1.5 million Armenians died between 1915 and 1923. By 1923, no Armenians lived in all of Asia Minor or historic West Armenia. The Armenian Genocide was a success for the Turkish government.
Many Armenians fled or were deported to the U.S. And, once settled, they set about pressing life insurance companies to pay out on the policies sold to the victims. Litigation ensued.
One of those long-standing insurance disputes potentially came to rest just recently. Fought in an out-of-state courtroom where it found its way to the Ninth United States Circuit Court of Appeals, the case was decided in favor of a German insurance company that was being sued by survivors of the Armenian Genocide.
The whole case started a decade ago when survivors of the Armenian Genocide filed the class action lawsuit. The dispute centered on life insurance policies, an apparent breach of contract and unjust enrichment. The survivors were able to pursue their legal claims from the U.S. because their state adopted a law that specifically allowed their courts to hear these claims.
The appellate court went back and forth on the case, once issuing a panel decision for the plaintiffs and later a decision for the insurance company. Finally, the court issued an en banc opinion that said the law that allowed the survivors to bring the suit is preempted under the foreign affairs doctrine. As one judge explained, the law infringed on the federal government’s right to conduct and to regulate foreign affairs.
So, the Court of Appeals dismissed the case. Unless the class successfully petitions the United States Supreme Court, the issue has been settled.
For the moment.
Source: The California Recorder, “Circuit Sides With Insurer on Armenian Genocide Claims,” Feb. 23, 2012Share