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NY State Supreme Court Issues Judgment in NYFCA Appeal
The Ferraro Law Firm recently achieved a victory that demonstrates the importance of seeking representation from attorneys willing to see a case through, even when doing so may take several years.
This particular case began in 2010. The plaintiff filed a complaint against the insurance companies MetLife, Prudential, and AXA. Our client later amended the complaint to add Genworth, Guardian, John Hancock, MassMutual, NY Life, TIAA as additional defendants. They then amended the complaint a second time, alleging that our client, while working for the State of New York, discovered that the defendants had failed to properly escheat unclaimed life insurance policy proceeds to the State.
According to Abandoned Property Law article VII, if the proceeds of life insurance policies remain unclaimed for three years, said proceeds must be escheated to the State. In recent years, changes have been made to the relevant statutes when an investigation revealed that life insurance companies were not adequately taking steps to identify deceased policyholders when they had not received direct notification of their deaths.
In this specific case, our client’s complaint alleged that the defendants had “made, used, or caused to be made” false records or statements in an attempt to avoid their legal obligation under these laws. Importantly, the complaint also alleged that the defendants knowingly did so.
The defendants responded by moving to have the complaint against them dismissed. Among other points, they argued that they were not required to escheat unclaimed life insurance policy proceeds to the State if they did not have notice or proof of the policyholders’ deaths. They were initially successful.
However, on appeal, the Supreme Court of the State of New York has arrived at a different conclusion. They’ve determined that earlier judgments were made in error because they incorrectly failed to acknowledge that, even when an insurer lacks notification or proof of a policyholder’s death, they are still obligated to escheat policy proceeds if they should have become aware of a policyholder’s death by conducting necessary research. The Supreme Court also found that we and our client had adequately demonstrated that the defendants had essentially filed false reports because their recordkeeping methods were so poor that they clearly were not taking the proper steps to determine if policyholders had passed away.
The Supreme Court’s latest judgments have given our client the means to amend their complaint once more. Had the Supreme Court ruled differently, they may not have been able to continue striving to hold the defendants accountable for filing false reports. While their amended complaint can only apply to alleged false claims made no more than 10 years prior to the initial complaints made against the defendants, they still have a new opportunity to pursue life insurance proceeds that the defendants may have been obligated to escheat to the State.
Again, this process began a decade ago. We understand that these cases may take time. That’s why we remained committed to the case despite numerous roadblocks throughout the years. We will continue to do so as our client files their amended complaint.