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Italian Insurer Reaches Settlement On Holocaust Claims

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A worldwide class action settlement has been reached for thousands of Holocaust-era claims against the large Italian insurer, Assicurazioni Generali S.p.A., Trieste.

Attorneys for the Philadelphia law firm Kohn, Swift & Graf P.C. announced they have an agreement with Generali on behalf of victims of Nazi persecution or their descendants.

According to press reports, the deal won far less than the attorneys sought but was the best the felt they could reach after years of litigation.

The deal was to be submitted to Judge George B. Daniels of Federal District Court in Manhattan for a hearing Jan. 31.

“This will be an opportunity for many people to finally receive funds that are owed to them and their families,” said Robert A. Swift, one of the lead plaintiffs’ attorneys in the class action, which it had pursued against Generali for more than 9 years.

Claim forms will be processed and paid using validation procedures established by the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claim, based in London.

Claimants could receive as little as $1,000, according to terms of the settlement announced by Swift.

Chris Carnicelli, chairman of Generali North America, issued a statement declaring the settlement “marks another major step in bringing the issue of Holocaust-era insurance claims to resolution. We do not believe that the objections of a few individuals should impede this settlement, or the process, which has already resulted in thousands of claimants receiving payments and more who could take advantage of this settlement.”

As of press time, however, it appeared the settlement was not quite resolved. An attorney for Generali said the Jan. 31 hearing adjourned with the parties agreeing to discuss “further items,” the nature of which he would not disclose.

“In effect, the two sides are huddling,” said the attorney, Marco E. Schnabl, a member of Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLP, New York.

Judge Daniels did not set a new date for continuing the hearings, Schnabl noted.

A number of plaintiff attorneys have opposed the proposed settlement on the ground that its claims procedures would be supervised by ICHEIC, a body that was created by life insurers, including Generali.

William M. Shernoff, an attorney in Claremont, Calif., says he will opt out of the settlement on behalf of 25 families represented by his firm, Shernoff Bidart & Darras LLP.

“Because the class action is based on ICHEK evaluations, our clients feel that’s not fair because ICHEK is funded and controlled by insurers,” Shernoff said. “We will continue on with the fight. I understand that people want to settle because they are elderly and it’s better than nothing. But our clients want to get fair market value for their policies and not some handout based on ICHEK.”

Headed by former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, ICHEK says its had received more than 91,000 claims by March 2004, its deadline for filing. Of these, the commission divided $234 million among almost 16,800 people. Another 27,000 received $1,000 each.

On its Web site, the World Jewish Congress commented that if the court approved the settlement, “it will close the book for thousands of people who claim they might be beneficiaries” of life insurance policies of Nazi victims.


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