FRESNO — Renowned trial lawyer Mark Geragos and attorney Brian Kabateck talked about their far-reaching legal victories over insurance companies during their recent visit to Fresno. The lawyers were in town to speak at a banquet hosted by the Central California Trial Lawyers Association Chapter of the Consumer Attorneys of California and the Charlie Keyan Armenian Community School. The event was held at the Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church.
For the past 10 years, Geragos and Kabateck have represented the descendants of Armenian Genocide victims who had purchased life insurance policies from various US and European companies prior to 1915.
“Going back to the late 1890s, insurance companies based in New York were selling insurance policies in rural Turkey. They employed Armenians as district managers and would have neophyte salesmen going from door to door to collect premiums,” said Kabateck, adding that about 4,000 policies were sold to Armenians.
What Geragos found particularly “chilling” from their research was that the personal records of the policy holders preserved almost the exact time when a particular family was forced from its home to join countless other Armenians on the death marches. “You can go village by village and see the dates when the premiums stop and chart the course of the Genocide as it was happening from these documents.”
Because Armenians perished as a result of state-ordered deportations or were killed outright at the hands of the ruling Turkish Ottoman government, no death certificates were ever issued. Without such documentation, the insurance companies denied payment to the beneficiaries.
In 2000, the California Legislature enacted Senate Bill 1915, which opened the door for the heirs of the policy holders to file claims against these insurance companies. Since then, Geragos and Kabateck have teamed to win a $20 million class action suit over New York Life and a $17.5 million settlement from French insurer AXA.
Their most recent suit against three German companies took on a political dimension. The defense lawyer challenged the legitimacy of SB 1915 itself, by arguing that because recent presidents have not used the term “Genocide”, the state law conflicts with federal policy and that the claim should be dismissed. Despite these tactics, Kabateck successfully demonstrated (1) that the reluctance of the executive branch to recognize the Genocide as such does not constitute a federal policy, (2) that the federal government has never opposed state recognition of the Genocide, and (3) that the term “Genocide” has in fact been used by federal officials on multiple occasions, including President Reagan’s 1981 reference to the “genocide of the Armenians”. The US appellate court upheld the California law and the right to claim restitution from the Genocide—a major legal victory for Armenians.
Earlier in the day, Geragos and Kabateck visited the Charlie Keyan Armenian Community School where they toured the campus and fielded various questions from students.
The Los Angeles-based attorneys are currently pursuing a claim on behalf of the heirs of Armenian title holders whose properties were seized during the Genocide.

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