Idaho: Insurance legislation would clarify languages

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Wed Mar 7 20:22:39 UTC 2007

 Insurance legislation would clarify languages

Posted: Monday, March 5, 2007

The House Business Committee voted 10-6 last week to recommend passage of
a bill that would allow insurance companies to advertise in Spanish or
other languages, but write insurance policies in English. Opponents of the
measure said they dont have a problem with the language used for brochures
and contracts. But they are concerned that one sentence in the bill would
set one legal standard for English speakers and another legal standard for
people who speak primarily Spanish or other languages.

The last sentence in the bill states, Advertisement regarding an insurance
policy in languages other than English may not be construed to modify the
policy in the event of a dispute over the provisions of the policy. Court
precedents in Idaho state that if a brochure or other ad describing an
insurance policy offers more coverage than the actual written insurance
contract, the consumer is entitled to the coverage described in the
brochure, according to Clinton Miner of the Idaho Trial Lawyers
Association. Consumers dont have to prove false advertising they
automatically get whats in their brochures.

The bill could remove those protections for non-English speakers, he said,
making it harder to file a claim for Spanish-speaking consumers. Hannah
Saona of the American Civil Liberties Union called the bill
discriminatory. Why should non-English speakers bear the burden of proving
false advertising? she said.

The problem that they envision is simply not there, said Allyn Dingel, an
attorney for an insurance firm, who argued that the statement in the bill
was intended only to ensure that the English language controls when there
is a minor disagreement about nuances, not blatant misrepresentation about
policy coverage. If you misrepresent a policy, you misrepresent a policy.
The bill passed the committee despite concerns by some lawmakers. Rep.
Branden Durst, D-Boise, questioned whether consumers would be able to
prove the policy was misrepresented to them if their Spanish-language
brochure was inadmissible in court.  If the brochure is inadmissible, hes
concerned cases would come down to he said, she said. Dingel said concerns
that this would allow insurance companies to misrepresent their policies
to non-English speakers were irrelevant because the Idaho code this bill
would be inserted into makes it a crime to falsely advertise insurance

But Rep. Bill Killen, D-Boise, was not assuaged. A specific provision
always controls over the more general, said Killen, who is an attorney.
The last sentence specifically prohibits using the brochure to construe
what the policy is, he said, so the Spanish-language brochure would never
appear before a judge or jury. Rep. Mark Snodgrass, R-Meridian, said if he
was Bosnian, read a Bosnian-language insurance brochure, he would expect
to get the coverage in the brochure.  He added that he didnt think it was
too onerous to ask insurance firms to offer policies in the same languages
in which they advertise. But Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, said he was
satisfied with the bill.  It appears to me weve run the legal gauntlet
with this. The committee defeated motions to hold the bill in committee
and to strike the final sentence of the bill, and recommended passage in
the House.

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