Please see the below for an interesting article titled ‘Win for Life Insurer in Unclaimed Property Arena” which discusses Feingold v. John Hancock Life Insurance Co., No. 13-10185 (D. Mass.). This article opens by noting the scrutiny that has recently been given to the insurance industry’s asymmetric use of the death master file and goes on to discuss the dismissal of Richard Feingold’s complaint claiming that “John Hancock regularly uses this database to determine when it may stop paying death benefits but never to determine whether to start.” As a disclaimer, I am not an attorney so please weigh my thoughts accordingly.
Of particular interest, is this case initially seemed like an insurer victory against the asymmetrical use claims that are so foundational to the various Global Resolution Agreements, and some are reading the decision in this manner. However, upon closer inspection, the court’s actual findings showed that some of Feingold’s key assertions were not germane to the claims. Therefore, the dismissal of Feingold’s claims is most directly connected to the court’s position on jurisdictional issues and to its finding that “John Hancock’s practice of requiring the life insurance policy beneficiary to submit proof of death before payment comports with both Massachusetts and Illinois law.” Accordingly, this case needs to be viewed as limiting the claims of individuals against life insurers. It does not address the issue of whether the states, in performing unclaimed property audits and utilizing the Death Master File, are exceeding their authority as regulators.
While still an important ruling that is favorable to the insurance industry, it does not seem to represent the panacea that some would have hoped.