For a brief period, the Illinois Comptroller posted a notice that sidestepped the inquiries made by funeral directors about the application of their Merrill Lynch settlements. The OIC website has since be revised.
One of the inquiries to the OIC may have involved whether the settlement funds could be applied to the litigation costs for pending lawsuits against Merrill Lynch. But for the litigation brought against Merrill Lynch, the funeral homes would not have received the settlements paid by the Department of Insurance. However, the settlement funds fall far short of the actual damages suffered by the funeral homes and consumers, and the argument may be that a portion of the funds could be used to continue the litigation.
Specifically, the Comptroller’s answered as follows:
It is the position of the OIC that we do not have the authority to instruct industry members on the proper disbursement of the funds.
In the following paragraph, the Comptroller warns:
During the review of future annual reports and audits, we will examine the method in which the funds are handled to assure that industry members acted in a good faith manner and in the best interest of consumers when determining the disposition of the funds.
While the litigation argument has merit, the Comptroller probably had concerns about the other uses funeral homes may have for the settlement funds. The notice may seem evasive to the industry, but it did not necessarily foreclose the application of funds to litigation that may benefit the consumer. But, funeral homes should pay heed to the warning that they will be held accountable for how settlement funds for active contracts are applied.