Battle over insurance search law settled
As the Florida Supreme Court continued to weigh the issues, the state and a group of insurance companies have settled a long-running battle about the constitutionality of a 2016 life-insurance law.
Attorneys for the Florida Department of Financial Services and four life-insurance companies that are subsidiaries of Kemper Corp. filed a document Friday that said an agreement had been reached to dismiss the case. The Supreme Court heard arguments in December but had not issued a ruling.
The companies — United Insurance Company of America, The Reliable Life Insurance Company, Mutual Savings Life Insurance Company and Reserve National Insurance Company — filed the legal challenge shortly after the law passed.
They fought a requirement in the law that life insurers retroactively search what is known as the “Death Master File” to determine whether policyholders have died. The Death Master File is a database run by the federal Social Security Administration.
While the insurers did not challenge the requirements for new policies, they argued that their rights were violated by having to conduct retroactive searches dating back to 1992. Also, they argued in court documents that the law could improperly lead to financial penalties.
“What this statute does is (it) imposes upon us a huge obligation that is going to have to be carried out manually in a lot of cases,” Robert Hochman, an attorney for the insurers, said during the Supreme Court arguments in December. “You are talking about policies going back decades.”
But insurance companies were accused in the past of routinely using the Death Master File to identify people whose deaths would end annuity payments, while not as promptly identifying people whose deaths would require payouts of insurance policies.
Under the 2016 law, insurers that find matches between policyholders and people in the Death Master File are required to try to find beneficiaries. If beneficiaries cannot be found, insurers are supposed to remit the money to the state as unclaimed property.
“Once there is a death of the insured, then what happens to the money?” Joe Jacquot, an attorney for the Department of Financial Services, said during the Supreme Court arguments. “Does it get paid out to the beneficiaries? The new statute says that there is an obligation to go in and enhance your records and check the Death Master File to identify that death.”
The settlement includes a process to conduct an audit to identify unclaimed benefits, while saying Kemper would be shielded from liability “with respect to all unclaimed property reported and remitted in good faith in accordance with the terms of this agreement,” according to a copy of the settlement.
A Leon County circuit judge in 2018 sided with the insurers, finding that the law violated due-process rights. But a divided panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal in 2020 upheld the law, spurring the insurers to take the dispute to the Supreme Court.