In rejecting the $18 million settlement forced upon IFDA members, an Illinois Circuit Court is telling Merrill Lynch Life Agency to dig deeper into its pocket to compensate funeral homes. As reported by the Springfield Journal-Register, the $18 million represents the revenues the insurance broker received from the sale of key man insurance to the IFDA master trust. Apparently, Merrill Lynch convinced the Illinois Department of Insurance (DOI) that the funeral homes’ damages should be measured in terms of the benefit that Merrill Lynch received. But as the editor of the Memorial Business Journal* suggests, the Circuit Court seems more inclined to consider a ‘deeper’ measure of damages, and that will require the parties to the litigation to assess the master trust’s true loss.

The master trust collapse is framed by a ‘value’ that was set by a fixed return (2%) on consumer deposits. Based on that ‘value’, the loss is reported to be close to $100 million. But, one question funeral directors may be forced to answer will be whether the trust could have attained that value with the investment restrictions imposed by the members and the expenses taken by the IFDA. Another issue that may be raised is whether the IFDA’s past executives and attorneys bear some of the responsibilities for either selecting the investments or approving them. If so, comparative negligence may force the IFDA to shoulder responsibility for a portion of the damages.

The situation begs for a negotiated settlement, and it is unfortunate that time and expense was wasted on an end run with a regulator that had little, if any, authority over the IFDA master trust.

*"Reprinted with permission from the March 4, 2010 issue of the Memorial Business Journal. To subscribe please call 609-815-8145."