Lawsuit claims insurance company discriminated against Haitians

Jan 24, 2008

South Florida

Lawsuit claims insurance company discriminated against Haitians


Associated Press

1:13 PM EST, January 23, 2008


Three people have sued Liberty National Life Insurance Co. claiming their insurance was canceled or undervalued because of discrimination against Haitian-Americans.

The plaintiffs say Liberty National asked leading questions about their foreign travel plans and that underwriters listened for a “Haitian” accent, according to the lawsuit filed Jan. 14 in Miami federal court.

Since 2004, Liberty National has denied policies “based solely on the applicant’s race and Haitian ancestry, ethnicity and national origin,” or replaced them with policies normally only sold to the terminally ill, the lawsuit claims.

Spokeswoman Joyce Lane of Torchmark Corp., the parent company of Alabama-based Liberty National, said Wednesday she would not comment on an active lawsuit.

In 2006, Liberty National reached a $6 million settlement in a nationwide class-action lawsuit that accused it of selling policies to blacks for higher premiums and lower benefits than to other customers.

The new class-action lawsuit was filed by three Haitian-Americans who live in South Florida. It seeks at least $75,000 in compensatory damages.

Two of the plaintiffs claim they qualified for standard life insurance, but were later issued different policies with higher premiums and lower benefits.

The third plaintiff said a life insurance policy he had for two years was canceled after an underwriter subtly asked him in a friendly phone call if he planned to ever visit Haiti. He replied he would like to do so in the future, and the underwriter told him his policy was immediately canceled, according to the lawsuit.

More than a third of the country’s Haitian population lives in Florida, according to the U.S. Census.

Life insurance companies cannot terminate a policy because of foreign travel, but can refuse to issue one in the first place, said James Hunt, a life insurance actuary with the Consumer Federation of America. Companies also have a limited amount of time to contest a policy and rescind it if information on the application was misrepresented, he said.

“If you’re going to Iraq, nobody wants to write you a life insurance policy,” Hunt said. “Most of us know Haiti can be a dangerous place.”

The U.S State Department has issued a travel warning for Haiti, due to ongoing security concerns in the impoverished Caribbean country, including the risk of kidnappings.