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Calif. insurer ordered to refund $101 million


SAN FRANCISCO -- In the first case completed under a voter-initiated rollback of automobile insurance rates, California's insurance commissioner yesterday ordered 20th Century Insurance Co. to pay more than $100 million in refunds to 650,000 policyholders.

But company officials, contending that their rates were among the industry's lowest, said they planned to appeal the rebates in California state courts.

Insurers had fought the voter initiative, known as Proposition 103, before it was passed in November 1988, and most have continued to oppose its provisions in court. The measure, together with court rulings, requires rate rollbacks based on insurers' rates of return.

The state insurance commissioner, John Garamendi, had adopted rollback regulations implementing the proposition in October 1991. The hearings on 20th Century, before an administrative law judge, Elizabeth Laporte, were the first to be completed under those regulations.

In his order yesterday, Mr. Garamendi accepted a proposed decision submitted to him this week by Judge Laporte. She had determined that a 12.2 percent rollback, amounting to a total of $101.8 million, or an average of about $157 each, should be paid to 20th Century policyholders.

"This is a rock-solid legal decision, which finds that 20th Century owes its policyholders over $100 million," Mr. Garamendi said yesterday. "The company's delay tactics have failed -- they should now do the right thing and pay their customers the money they've been owed for three years."

The company has 5.6 percent of the state's automobile insurance market. Under Proposition 103, all property and casualty insurance companies were required to provide a 20 percent rollback to customers.

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