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$10 Million Life Insurance Settlement for Heirs of Genocide Victims

By John Jabagchourian

New York Life Insurance Co. agreed to pay $10 million to settle a lawsuit over unpaid policies made by heirs of Armenians killed in the Genocide 86 years ago.

The company, which had a European office in the early 20th century, sold about 3,300 life insurance policies to Armenians in the Ottoman Empire prior to 1915. Archives show that about 2,200 of those policies have not been paid.

These policies, which will be paid at ten times the face value, are estimated to total at least $7 million. The company will also give $3 million to Armenian civic organizations.

As part of the settlement announced on April 11, New York Life will publish a list of names of the families who purchased life insurance during that time. The list is expected to be published in a national advertising program towards the end of the year with instructions for potential beneficiaries.

“We think this is a very fair and equitable solution to a long-standing issue rooted in a terrible incident that occurred in the Ottoman Empire,” New York Life vice-president, Bill Werfelman said.

The suit was filed in Los Angeles by Martin Marootian who contended that he was the beneficiary of one of the policies. A suit of this type was made possible after a 2000 bill signed into law by Governor Grey Davis made it possible for Armenian-American California residents to sue insurance companies over unpaid policies in California courts.

New York Life initially argued that European courts should preside over such issue. California however, contains the largest population of Armenians outside of Armenia, and such a case would attract more attention in the United States.

“I think I can speak for the clients and say it was important that New York Life recognize the existence of these claims that were not paid,” lead attorney for the plaintiffs Brian Kabateck, who is half-Armenian, said.

New York Life does not refer to the “Armenian Genocide” in their statement about the agreement, referring instead to “widespread deaths” and “massacre.” Kabateck said that he would insist that a final settlement use that term.

A federal judge must still approve of the settlement and its execution. The decision is expected in a few weeks.