Ohio Charges Companies With Violations Over Drought Insurance
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) _ The Chubb Group and other insurance companies have been charged with violating Ohio law by overselling drought insurance policies to farmers, officials say.
The charges, filed by Ohio Insurance Director George Fabe, followed hearings on Chubb’s marketing practices at which farmers, insurance agents and officials of Chubb and other companies testified.
Chubb also faces a class-action lawsuit by farmers in 10 states accusing it of reneging on its obligations to pay drought insurance claims.
In addition, Minnesota, Indiana and Iowa have scheduled hearings regarding the drought insurance in their states.
″The testimony gathered in the investigation shows that the companies involved failed to properly control the marketing of the insurance. As a result, there were numerous violations of Ohio’s insurance laws,″ Neil Rector, deputy director of the department, said Monday.
Fabe issued a 12-count order against Chubb subsidiary Federal Insurance Co., underwriter of the drought insurance.
Other orders involving fewer counts were filed against Chubb’s administrator, Good Weather International of Jericho, N.Y.; a Good Weather subsidiary, Good Weather Agriculture of Fresno, Calif.; Pio-Gard Ltd., an insurance agency based in Des Moines, Iowa; and Pio-Gard of Ohio, Pio-Gard’s Ohio operation.
The order against Chubb charges it with violating Ohio’s Deceptive Practices Act. It also charges the company with using unlicensed agents and failing to file proper insurance policy forms.
A spokesman at Chubb’s Warren, N.J., headquarters said the company had not seen Fabe’s orders and would not comment on them until it has time to review them.
Penalties the department may impose range from reprimands to suspending or revoking their licenses to operate in Ohio and fines of up to $25,000.
The companies have 30 days to request a hearing on the charges.
While he said he did not believe the companies’ actions were premeditated, Fabe said the insurance ″was not carefully designed and controlled,″ and was administered sloppily.
During June, about 600 Ohio farmers applied for the coverage, but Chubb announced in July that agents had oversold the policies and began returning premium payments.
Fabe said that even after the insurance was oversold, agents were at farmers’ homes into the early morning hours selling policies.
Rains that have fallen in Ohio since the hearings precluded many farmers from collecting on the policies, but Rector said that does not affect the department’s investigation.
″Just because there’s been no harm doesn’t mean there’s no foul,″ he said.
Two weeks ago, a federal judge in Cincinnati granted class-action status to lawsuits by farmers in 10 states against Chubb. The action allows other farmers to join the lawsuit. The farmers involved live in Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Michigan, Illinois, Missouri, Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin.
The farmers say Chubb sold them drought insurance but failed to pay their claims for damage from this year’s drought. Chubb has offered to repay farmers twice the amount they paid in premiums, but some state insurance regulators have termed the offer inadequate.
Chubb has maintained its innocence. The company said it initially intended to underwrite $30 million in drought insurance nationwide, but that a last- minute flurry of applications this spring resulted in potential liabilities of more than $400 million.
In recent weeks, the company took out full-page advertisements in newspapers around the country saying it has a longstanding reputation for business integrity.