A federal appeals court has given new life to efforts by some Holocaust survivors to overturn a court-approved settlement of wartime life insurance claims against the Italian insurance giant Generali.
But Robert Swift, a Philadelphia lawyer for other survivors who sought court-approval of the settlement, has sought to minimize the court decision. And he complained that reopening the case would only delay the payment of life insurance claims already approved.
“He is delaying a settlement that old Holocaust survivors could use,” Swift said, referring to Samuel Dubbin of Miami, the lawyer who filed the appeal. “Is he going to be happy after all the survivors are deceased?”
Swift said the decision issued Oct. 2 by the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals is “only a technical one as to whether, in addition to all the notice we gave [of the settlement], we also had to give individual mailed notice. [The court] asked that we do supplemental mailings and then the matter would come back before the court.”
Swift said that at least 10,000 people would receive the new mailing in addition to the 23,000 people who had previously received it. He said it would be mailed well in advance of the court’s Nov. 26 deadline.
But Dubbin said the six survivors for whom he filed the appeal of a February court order want to demonstrate that the settlement was “not fair” to those whose claim had been denied by Generali or who had not applied because they were unaware their family had a policy.
He said Generali published only about 40,000 names of policyholders “and most were published late in the game after the deadline [for filing claims] had been extended twice. And they represented only a fraction” of all Holocaust-era policies.
“So there is a lot of information in Generali’s records and survivors and heirs and beneficiaries to this day have never had access to that information,” Dubbin said.
He pointed out that more than 50,000 people had filed claims with Generali that were denied, and that the new notification process would give them a chance to opt out of the settlement or to tell the judge how unsatisfied they were with the claims process.
Dubbin said that Generali has admitted that in about 5,000 of the rejected cases there was “a prior relationship between a family member and the company. But it denied payment on the grounds that there was no proof of a current policy ... In court, there would be a different burden of proof and it would be up to Generali and not the survivors to prove what happened to the records.”
Albert Lewis, a former superintendent of the New York State Insurance Department who served as a claims arbitrator for the International Commission on Holocaust-Era Insurance Claims, said that although the commission’s policy was to favor claimants, he was pressured into favoring insurance companies. He told The Jewish Week that this was a “phantom rule” that was widely applied.
Swift charged that Dubbin brought the appeal in order to strengthen his pending case in behalf of a single individual, Thomas Weiss. “That’s a billion dollar case against Generali and he is using this appeal to try to prevent Generali from resolving other claims until Weiss’ claim is resolved,” he said.
Dubbin said he is pursuing the Weiss case because when Weiss first filed a claim in 1985 he was told by Generali that it had no records of a policy for his father.
“Ten years later he sued Generali and his dad’s policies materialized,” Dubbin said. “How many other people were treated that way who didn’t have a son to follow through? That is an issue I’m going to raise with the judge.”
He added that Generali has refused to honor other Weiss claims “because he couldn’t provide the birthdates of those who died in the Holocaust whom he never met. He is the only child of a family that was otherwise decimated.”
In a related development, a group of survivors last week urged Congress to pass a bill that would allow survivors to sue in federal court to obtain unpaid pre-war European insurance policies.
And Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan) has reintroduced legislation that would make European railroad companies that worked for the Nazis accountable in U.S. courts. More than 75,000 Jews were transported from France to concentration camps by French railroad companies.