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Tuesday, 13 January 2015 00:00

Mercury Auto Insurance Ordered by CA Insurance Commissioner to Pay $27.5 Million Fine

California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones ordered Mercury Insurance to pay a fine of $27,593,562 million because the company's auto insurance consumers were charged unapproved "broker fees." Mercury did not obtain the commissioner's approval for the "broker fees" and so consumers paid more than the approved rates. Proposition 103, passed by the voters in 1988, prevents auto insurers from charging excessive rates and requires that rates be approved by the commissioner.

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Despite being advised against doing so by the Department of Insurance, from 1999 through 2004, Mercury's insurance agents charged and collected these unapproved fees on more than 180,000 transactions, improperly collecting $27,593,562 million from consumers.

"Mercury auto insurance consumers paid $27.5 million in unapproved fees," said Commissioner Jones. "While the $27.5 million fine against Mercury is significant, it is commensurate with the amount of money that was unlawfully collected from Mercury policyholders."

The commissioner's decision comes after an exhaustive process that included a full evidentiary hearing conducted by an administrative law judge. The hearing included 15 days of testimony, extensive exhibits and legal briefs. The administrative law judge found that there were at least 180,000 transactions in which Mercury auto policyholders were charged fees that had not been approved. After all of the evidence and legal arguments were considered, the independent administrative law judge recommended the commissioner impose the $27.5 million fine on Mercury.

Brokers are allowed to charge fees. But in this case, those who were identified as brokers were actually functioning as agents, and therefore, their fees had to be filed as part of Mercury's rate filing and approved by the commissioner, which Mercury failed to do.

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