Calif. insurance department probes Hartford Financial on surcharges

By Lavonne Kuykendall
April 11, 2006

 CHICAGO (MarketWatch) -- Hartford Financial Services Corp. (HIG) stands accused of allowing one of its California agents to collect premiums that were around $100 higher than the allowed rates on workers' compensation and business policies, California's insurance commissioner said Monday afternoon.

The California Department of Insurance filed a lawsuit Monday charging that agent Superior Access Insurance Services of Irvine, Calif., from at least January 2002, charged around 4,700 of its customers the extra fees, which weren't approved by the insurance department.

The suit charges that Superior Access didn't pass the extra fees along to Hartford, but that Hartford was aware of the extra charges.

California law treats the fees as though Hartford received them, according to a press release issued by Commissioner John Garamendi.

The insurance department said the extra fees were paid primarily on workers' compensation and business owner policies.

The regulator said it is investigating several general agents and insurance companies for similar infractions. Its suit asks for a refund of all illegally collected fees and for reimbursement of the insurance department's investigation costs of at least $5,000.

On its Web site, Superior Access says it operates a Web portal that gives small and mid-sized insurance agencies access to 65 insurers, and lists several providers of workers compensation insurance, including American International Group Inc. (AIG), ACE Ltd. (ACE), CNA Financial Corp. (CNA), and Safeco Corp. (SAFC).

Spokespersons for the insurers couldn't immediately be reached.

Shares of Hartford recently traded down 0.7% to $81.66 on the New York Stock Exchange.
Copyright © 2006 by Marketwatch

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