Governor Jerry Brown has signed into law S.B. 621 – The”Discretionary Authority” Bill

Kantor & Kantor is pleased to announce that Governor Jerry Brown has signed into law S.B. 621. California State Senator Ron Calderon first proposed the legislation, which regulates life and disability insurance policies, and bans discretionary clauses in such. Previously, insurers included such clauses in group insurance policies and certificate, granting themselves the power to interpret terms of the policies, and to make eligibility determinations based on their own interpretations. This law provides that if a policy, contract, certificate, or agreement offered, issued, delivered, or renewed, whether or not in California, that provides or funds life or disability insurance coverage for any California resident contains a provision that reserves discretionary authority to the insurer, or an agent of the insurer, to determine eligibility for benefits or coverage, to interpret the terms of the policy, contract, certificate, or agreement, or to provide standards of interpretation or review that are inconsistent with the laws of California, that provision would be void and unenforceable.

The law authorizes the Insurance Commissioner to adopt regulations reasonably necessary to implement these provisions.

This law will change how federal Judges consider insurance cases going forward. Previously, in the event a disabled person filed a lawsuit against an insurance company that had included a discretionary clause in its policy, the federal Judge reviewing the case would be required to defer to the insurer’s decision, rather than look at the evidence for and against disability, and weigh it accordingly. In essence, the Judge would have to assume the insurer was correct in denying a claim, unless the plaintiff could prove that the insurer’s decision was arbitrary, unreasonable, capricious or clearly wrong. The scales were tilted, in favor of the insurers, who had self-granted discretion. Now, the scales will be level again.

ERISA (which stands for the Employee Retirement and Income Security Act) was a federal law passed in 1974 which governs, among other things, employee benefits. This law governs cases brought by, for example, disabled employees who are seeking their employer-provided disability insurance benefits, which have been denied. Because these employer-provided benefits fall under the governance of the federal ERISA law, any lawsuits for such benefits must be filed in federal court. The ERISA statute only applies to life and disability insurance policies, NOT health insurance policies. Hopefully, the law will soon be expanded to encompass health coverage.

Glenn Kantor was instrumental in assisting in the passage of this bill. He provided expert testimony in California state legislative hearings in Sacramento, and continues to fight for his clients whose policies may or may not contain such discretionary provisions.

For more details you can visit Senator Calderon’s site: http://dist30.casen.govoffice.com

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