The Office of General Counsel issued the following opinion on September 22, 2004, representing the position of the New York State Insurance Department.
Re: Discrimination in Life Insurance
Do the New York Insurance Law and the regulations promulgated thereunder specifically address discrimination against individuals with a criminal history with respect to obtaining life insurance?
The New York Insurance Law and the regulations promulgated thereunder do not specifically address the question that the inquirer posed.
No specific fact pattern was submitted.
The New York Insurance Law and its corresponding regulations do not specifically address the question that the inquirer posed. Although the New York Insurance Law addresses certain kinds of discrimination in underwriting (ie. discrimination on the basis of race, creed, disability, marital status, etc.), it does not specifically address discrimination based on an individuals criminal background. 1
New York courts have held that, as a general rule, an insurer is free to select risks and to make inquiry of matters that it deems material to the risk. See Vander Veer v. Continental Ins. Co., 34 N.Y.2d 50, 52 (1974); Health Ins. Assn v. Corcoran, 154 A.D.2d 61, 67(3d Dept. 1990).
It is the Departments position that an insurer may use objective underwriting guidelines, which are uniformly applied and reasonably related to the risk, to determine insurability. If an individual feels that he or she has been discriminated against, the individual may file a complaint with our Consumer Services Bureau to determine whether the insurer acted in accordance with its objective underwriting guidelines which are uniformly applied and reasonably related to the risk insured against.
For further information you may contact Senior Attorney Pascale Jean-Baptiste at the New York City Office.
1 See, eg., N.Y. Ins. Law Article 26 (McKinney 2000 and Supp. 2004); N.Y. Ins. Law § 3434 (McKinney 2000).