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Insurance company, ethnic Armenians reach settlement

As Associated Press tells today, an American life insurance company that has fought efforts by ethnic Armenians to collect on
policies issued nearly a century ago announced Wednesday it
had reached a settlement with beneficiaries. Find below the rest of the news.

The multimillion-dollar settlement, which still must be
approved in court, could benefit some 10,000 heirs living
in the United States and abroad whose family members
purchased policies from New York Life Insurance Co. before
1915.

Armenians say 1.5 million of their people were killed as
part of the Ottoman Empire’s campaign to force them out of
eastern Turkey. Turkey says there was no systematic
campaign of slaughter and that many Armenians fled during
the war and the civil unrest that followed.

Many life insurance policies and other papers were lost or
destroyed at the time, making it difficult for heirs to collect benefits. Some people are unaware that their relatives had policies, so New York Life will publish a list of policyholders in newspapers worldwide, said Brian Kabateck, an attorney for the plaintiffs.

“We are gratified that New York Life provided a list of
policyholders upon which we were able to have meaningful
discussions and reach a well-deserved settlement,” said
William Shernoff, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys who also
has worked to get Holocaust survivors and their families
paid on policies that suffered similar fates.

“This is in sharp contrast to the European insurers that
have not been as forthcoming with policyholder
information.”

Under the settlement, New York Life will pay beneficiaries
10 times the face value amount of the policy and will
contribute dlrs 3 million to Armenian civic organizations,
the plaintiffs’ attorneys said.

The settlement comes months after Gov. Gray Davis signed
into law what was known as the Armenian genocide bill,
which allowed survivors or their heirs to sue in California
courts to recover policy benefits and extended the statute
of limitations to cover lawsuits filed by 2010.

New York Life had filed a motion in U.S. District Court in
Los Angeles seeking to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds
that this jurisdiction had no authority to hear it. The
company said Wednesday it had notified the court it was
withdrawing the motion.

“We have a fair and equitable agreement in principle that
the parties are confident a court will approve,” said
William Werfelman, a New York Life vice president.

“Both sides recognize that under very difficult
circumstances in the Ottoman Empire in 1915, and for years
thereafter, New York Life paid benefits to beneficiaries
and heirs on policies sold to Turkish Armenians.”

The original plaintiff in the case, Martin Marootian, said
he was not pleased with all the details of the settlement,
which attorneys said could be addressed in a court hearing
on the settlement. Any plaintiffs who disapprove of the
settlement can withdraw, or the settlement can be called of
entirely.

Marootian declined to give details on what he didn’t like
in the settlement.

The elderly Armenian filed his lawsuit in November 1999
after years of frustration with the company over a policy
his uncle took out before being killed in 1915 in the
ethnic conflict. Marootian said New York Life failed to pay
on the 1910 policy to Marootian’s mother, who had become
the beneficiary.

He claimed that New York Life illegally transferred the
policy to a French company and remained liable.

“His mother started the fight right around the time he
was born in 1923 or 1924, and New York Life had been
putting up roadblocks for her,” Kabateck said. “It’s just
like they didn’t want to pay the policies.”

A final hearing on the settlement probably won’t happen
until the end of the year, he said.

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