NINE INSURERS JOIN SUIT AGAINST NJ OVER JUA DEBT

NINE INSURERS JOIN SUIT AGAINST NJ OVER JUA DEBT

Nine insurance companies have joined a lawsuit to block New Jersey's attempt to recoup millions of dollars from them for the alleged abuse of the debt- ridden Joint Underwriting Association pool for high-risk drivers.

The suits, filed in state Superior Court in Mercer County on Tuesday, bring the total number of insurance companies challenging the state on this issue to 12. Three other companies involved in the JUA - Allstate, Keystone and State Farm - have not joined the legal action.The Department of Insurance, using the state's administrative law system, says the 15 companies should pay up to $900 million for allegedly overcharging and mismanaging the JUA, which is $3.1 billion in debt. The companies sharply

deny any wrongdoing in the handling of the pool for high-risk drivers, maintaining that they were forced to work within a faulty system set up by the state.

The companies filing suit on Tuesday were the Selective Insurance Co. of America, Newark Insurance Co., National Surety Corp., Hanover Insurance Co., Continental Casualty Co., Travelers Indemnity Co., Indemnity Co. of North America, the Pennsylvania National Mutual Casualty Insurance Co. and the Prudential Commercial Insurance Co.

One other firm, Aetna Casualty and Surety Co., also has filed suit in state court. Two other firms, Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. and Continental Insurance Co. of New Jersey, have filed challenges in federal court.

The suit filed on Tuesday alleges that the state administrative law process, which allows the Commissioner of Insurance to overturn an administrative law judge ruling, is not a fair forum to settle the JUA matter. The firms want the matter argued in the state courts.

A state Superior Court judge last week refused Aetna's request to block the state action against the JUA carriers, but criticized part of the state administrative law process.

Judge Paul Levy said Aetna's request for a temporary restraining order to halt the state action should be heard by the Appellate Division.