A proposed settlement of Holocaust-era claims against the giant Italian insurance company Assicurazioni Generali has resulted in the payment of more than $25 million and the reopening of the claims process until next March 31, according to Robert Swift, an attorney who handled the settlement.
But an economist who served as a consultant to the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, Sidney Zabludoff, criticized the settlement for "adding nothing and making the claimants’ plight more difficult."
Zabludoff said that contrary to the lawyers’ statement on their Web site that claims will be funded using the same formula as that used by the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims (which is no longer accepting claims) the settlement actually cuts payments. He explained that instead of using the rate paid by U.S. Savings Bonds (about 5 percent) to calculate interest after 1999, the settlement uses the Consumer Price Index, which is about 2.5 percent.
"The bottom line is that the agreement adds nothing and makes it worse," Zabludoff said. "It’s a step backwards."
But Swift said that unless the claim was substantial, the difference is "minimal." He said the rest of the settlement is significant because it calls for Generali to pay claims in excess of the $100 million cap Generali had previously set. He also said Generali agreed to accept new claims after previously refusing claims filed after a March 2004 deadline.
The settlement was reached in August and since then more than $25 million in claims above the $100 million cap has been paid, and offers have been made to other claimants that total another $7.5 million, Swift said. He noted that the average payment has been $25,000 and that no verified claimant has received less than $1,000.
Zabludoff claimed, however, that Generali had agreed more than a year ago to exceed the $100 million cap, and that Generali had also agreed to consider all new claims. The settlement, he insisted, added nothing new.
Asked about Zabludoff’s assertions, Swift said he had an affidavit from Generali that said that until the settlement it had not made a commitment to pay more than $100 million, and that he was "not aware" of any claims Generali considered after the 2004 deadline.
The agreement, which is subject to judicial approval at a hearing in Manhattan Federal Court on Jan. 31, would cover individuals (as well as their ancestors or beneficiaries) who bought Generali insurance between 1920 and 1945 and whose policy was still in effect prior to the Holocaust.
"Many of these people were persecuted due to their religion, ethnic background, sexual orientation or political beliefs," Swift said. In their suit, survivors claimed that after the war, Generali and other European insurance companies refused to pay insurance claims.
To participate in the settlement, individuals should call toll free, 866-217-4455 and request a notice and claim form. It must be sent by March 31, 2007.