PRICE TAG ON DAMAGES COULD BE IN THE MILLIONS

PRICE TAG ON DAMAGES COULD BE IN THE MILLIONS

If the attorneys general who filed massive antitrust lawsuits against the insurance industry win their cases, underwriters could be forced to pay millions in damages.

Attorneys general in New York, Alabama, California, Minnesota, Massachusetts, West Virginia and Wisconsin filed similar lawsuits in federal court Tuesday, charging U.S. and British insurers, reinsurers, trade associations and brokers with antitrust violations.Texas filed a separate suit in state court and Arizona, New Jersey and Connecticut are expected to file similar lawsuits soon.

The lawsuits accuse four large insurers, Hartford Fire Insurance Co., Hartford, Conn.; Allstate Insurance Co., Northbrook, Ill.; Aetna Casualty & Surety Co., Hartford, Conn.; and Cigna Corp., Philadelphia, among others, of conspiring to shrink the coverage provided under standard commercial liability policies.

The suits allege that the companies used their market power to make sure none of their competitors could sell broader coverage.

In the New York complaint, Attorney General Robert Abrams asks the court to establish a trust fund to pay claims incurred by governmental entities that were uninsured as a result of the alleged conspiracy.

Mr. Abrams said the so-called conspiracy resulted in millions of dollars lost by businesses and government.

The damage inflicted by these conspiracies - in financial losses to government, business and innocent victims, in closed facilities and curtailed services - will not be fully realized or measured for years, Mr. Abrams said.

He also asks that the plaintiffs be awarded their defense costs and three times the damages they suffered as a result of the insurers' actions.

We have asked the court to both remedy the damage and restructure the industry so as to prevent a reoccurrence of this collusive behavior, Mr. Abrams said.

For each violation of the state's business law, Mr. Abrams asks that each corporate defendant pay a fine of not more than $1 million and individuals pay not more than $100,000.

The suit also seeks a broad restructuring and the restoration of the policy forms recommended by the Insurance Services Office Inc., a New York- based rate-making and advisory trade association.

The lawsuit accuses the companies of intimidating ISO into changing its policy forms. ISO members sell more than 95 percent of all U.S. liability insurance.

Hartford, Allstate, Aetna and Cigna all sat on key ISO committees when the alleged conspiracy took place. The lawsuit asks that the companies be barred

from participating on any board of committee of ISO for 10 years.

The majority of ISO's board of directors would be replaced by public interest representatives.

Stamford, Conn.-based General Re Corp. would be barred from sitting on any board or committee of the Reinsurance Association of America for 10 years. RAA is a Washington-based trade group for reinsurers that was named in the suit.