Posted on 24 Jan 2013 by Neilson
A personal injury law firm known best for its punchy and dramatic commercials has given in to pressure to drop an ad that claimed insurance agents would be to blame for certain policies that didn't pay out after Hurricane Sandy.
The Professional Insurance Agents of New York, which represents independent sellers of property and casualty insurance, has lodged an ethics complaint against Jacoby & Meyers over the ad, which the group calls "false, misleading and deceptive."
Specifically, Jacoby & Meyers' commercial stated, "If your business lost business due to the storm, your insurance policy should cover it. If it doesn't, your agent made an error. We'll work to correct it," according to PIA's complaint, filed last month with a New York Supreme Court disciplinary committee.
The ad "clearly" violates New York's rules of professional conduct that bars attorneys from producing false, misleading or deceptive advertisements, according to the complaint filed by Matthew Guilbault, director of government and industry affairs for PIA. That's because it implies the only reason why a business's insurance policy would not cover an interruption loss is because of an insurance agent's error, he wrote.
However, there are many reasons why a business might not be covered for their interruption loss that have nothing to do with an agent's actions or inaction, Guilbault wrote. For one, a business may have declined to buy the coverage they ended up needing, he said. In other cases, the coverage simply was not available where the business is located. For example, business interruption coverage for outages at power and other utilities generally has not been available in coastal areas susceptible to windstorms, he wrote.
By attempting to scapegoat insurance agents, Jacoby & Meyers "have promised victims of Superstorm Sandy something that they cannot legally deliver," Guilbault wrote.
PIA made its complaint on Dec. 19, but the group's parent organization, the National Association of Professional Insurance Agents, did not publicly release the letter until last week.
Andrew Finkelstein, managing partner of Jacoby & Meyers in New York, said he agreed to stop running the ad after a phone conversation with PIA. He said the ad last ran around Dec. 24, or a few days after PIA filed its complaint. The law firm still has two other Hurricane Sandy-themed commercials on air.
In an interview, Guilbault said PIA filed its complaint after Jacoby & Meyers did not respond to a request to remove the ad. He said the remaining Jacoby & Meyers ads appeared to be within what is legally permitted. But the court's disciplinary committee is still investigating its complaint, he said.
Finkelstein called the complaint "meritless."
"My firm is honored to stand up for individuals who have been wronged by insurance agents and insurance companies," Finkelstein wrote in an email. "A meritless complaint by a group that is more focused on their members than the people they serve will be seen exactly for what it is, a self-serving, baseless attempt to deflect any inquiry into their actions.
"The real problem they have with the ad is that it educates the consumers that they have rights," he wrote.
Guilbault said insurance agents are "bending over backwards" to assist their policyholder clients, and that he was "fairly confident" agents won't face many lawsuits over Hurricane Sandy claims.
Jacoby & Meyers, which has seven offices in New Jersey, is a prolific advertiser. For the first nine months of 2012, the firm spent more than $2.1 million on advertisements, according to consultant Kantar Media. That's more than the $1.7 million it spent in 2011, but less than the more than $3.6 million it spent in 2010.
Finkelstein said Jacoby & Meyers presently is representing insurance policyholders with their claims, but has not filed any lawsuits yet.