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Appeals Court Decides Client May Sue Insurance Broker for Taking Kickbacks From Insurers

 

In a proposed class action insurance fraud lawsuit, the Illinois First District Court of Appeal has ruled that a former client may sue an insurance broker for inflating the cost of its insurance policies with “kickbacks.” DOD Technologies v. Mesirow Insurance Services Inc., No. 1-06-3300 (Ill. 1st Feb. 14, 2008). Plaintiff DOD Technologies sued Mesirow Insurance Services Inc., its insurance broker, after learning that Mesirow took contingency fees from insurance companies for steering clients toward those companies.

In its complaint, DOD said it provided confidential information to Mesirow, expecting the broker to get DOD the best price it could for insurance. But in addition to its commission from DOD, Mesirow also received “contingent commissions” from insurance companies, which were payments based on the amount of business it directed to the insurer, the number of renewals and how many losses the insurer had suffered from those clients. The payments were not disclosed to customers, DOD alleged, and created a conflict of interests for Mesirow. They also violated a part of the Illinois Insurance Code that require insurance brokers to disclose fees not directly related to premiums.

DOD sued Mesirow for breach of fiduciary duty, consumer fraud, fraudulent concealment, unjust enrichment and accounting. The complaint alleged that Mesirow steered customers to insurers who paid kickbacks, regardless of whether those insurers offered the best price, inflating the cost of insurance. The trial court dismissed three of DOD’s counts because the Insurance Code precludes breach of fiduciary duty claims and two others because it found no proof that DOD suffered damages or relied on the fraudulent concealment. DOD appealed.

The First District started with the breach of fiduciary duty count, which Mesirow alleged was precluded by provisions of the Insurance Code barring most breach of fiduciary duty claims. The exception written into the law is when the insurance producer is accused of “the wrongful retention or misappropriation… of any money that was received as premiums, as a premium deposit, or as payment of a claim.” DOD contended that its complaint falls within that exception, while Mesirow argued that it refers only to diverting premium payments for wrongful ends. The appeals court sided with DOD, holding that directing a client to an insurance policy not in its best interests in exchange for undisclosed kickbacks falls under the definition of misappropriation of premiums.

Having reversed the trial court on the counts for breach of fiduciary duty, unjust enrichment and accounting, the First District next turned to the Illinois Consumer Fraud Act claim. DOD alleged that it relied on Mesirow’s faulty information and thus paid excessive insurance premiums. However, the court noted, the Consumer Fraud Act requires that the plaintiff show actual damages. The record did not show that DOD would have done much differently if it had known of Mesirow’s alleged practices, the court wrote. Thus, the dismissal of the consumer fraud claim was affirmed.

Similarly, the court affirmed the dismissal of the fraudulent concealment complaint because DOD failed to show that it suffered actual damages. Finally, the court disposed of technical arguments raised by the plaintiff over alleged misconduct during discovery and in filings. In the end, the First District affirmed the dismissal of the Consumer Fraud Act and fraudulent concealment complaints, but reversed and remanded the other complaints for trial.

The consumer rights law firm of DiTommaso-Lubin handles consumer fraud complaints such as this one, both as individual actions and as national or Illinois class action lawsuits representing a large group of consumers with similar complaints. Our Chicago based insurance fraud attorneys and consumer lawyers help clients throughout the United States against insurance companies and others that inflated their premiums, failed to pay legitimate claims or otherwise took advantage of their relative lack of power. From offices near Wheaton, Ill., and Chicago, DiTommaso-Lubin represents clients throughout the Midwest and the United States. If you believe your insurance company has violated its own contract and you’re ready to fight back, please contact DiTommaso-Lubin online or call us toll-free at 1-877-990-4990.