Solo Attorney Bennett M. Cohen Takes On CA Department of Insurance and Wins

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On December 17, 2014, in a case of first impression in California and possibly nationwide, the California Supreme Court allowed to stand a California Court of Appeal decision, entitled Ellena v. Department of Insurance, that requires the Department of Insurance (DOI) to proactively oversee the sale of new disability insurance policies in California. The victorious plaintiff, Cassaundra Ellena, was represented by San Francisco solo practitioner, Bennett M. Cohen, throughout the case (

Bennett M. Cohen

But let's hope the Ellena decision, a very important victory for consumers, will help the Commissioner get the resources from the Legislature to comply with the Court decision...

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Now garnering statewide attention, the unanimous California Court of Appeal decision reversed the trial court’s ruling and held that the DOI, represented by the California Attorney General, has a duty under California law to screen all new disability insurance policies for deceptive or illegal provisions before they may be sold in California.

According to an article in the Sonoma Press Democrat, in 2011, Ellena sued her disability insurer, Standard Insurance Company, alleging that she was disabled due to lupus and Standard had denied her claim in bad faith. Ellena also sued the DOI alleging that it should never have approved the unlawful definition of disability in the Standard Insurance Company policy and asked the Court to order the DOI to review it. Both Standard Insurance Company and the DOI asserted, as they had asserted in previous cases, that the DOI had no duty to review or approve disability policies. According to the court documents, after the trial court dismissed Ellena’s claim against the DOI and Ellena appealed that dismissal, Ellena’s case against Standard Insurance Company proceeded separately to trial. Ellena won a jury verdict against Standard Insurance Company of $873,622 for bad faith denial of her claim.

According to court documents, while Ellena’s case against the DOI was on appeal, the Association Of California Life And Health Insurance Companies, an insurance industry group that was not a party to the case, attempted to file a legal brief, but was denied that right by the court. Cohen said, “The insurance industry lobby no doubt liked that the DOI was not screening insurance policies and wanted to keep it that way."

This decision of the California Court of Appeal (Case No: A137268) and the ruling of the California Supreme Court (Case No. S222452), denying the DOI’s request for review or depublishing of the Court of Appeal decision, are being hailed as a significant victory for California consumers. Attorney Cohen is the first attorney to pursue this hotly contested issue, which the appellate court described as “of great public interest,” to the appellate level.

In a recent blog on the website of United Policyholders, the leading non-profit advocacy group for insurance policyholders in the nation, UPH Director Amy Bach writes, “But let's hope the Ellena decision, a very important victory for consumers, will help the Commissioner get the resources from the Legislature to comply with the Court decision and step up to the task of better protecting consumers by routinely reviewing, (approving and disapproving where needed), the wording in insurance policies sold to California residents. Not just disability. Home and business policies as well. We need and are entitled to that protection...”

The published decision, Ellena v. Department of Insurance, Case No: A137268 (arising out of Ellena v. Standard Insurance Company) can be downloaded at:

The Law Offices of Bennett M. Cohen have been handling bad faith disability cases for more than twenty years in San Francisco and surrounding areas. For questions or more information, please call 800-704-3077.

About Bennett M. Cohen, Attorney At Law
Mr. Cohen is a graduate of Oberlin College and the University of San Francisco School of Law. Mr. Cohen trained with a nationally renowned attorney who once had the highest jury verdict in U.S. history. Mr. Cohen has worked with two of the top plaintiff's law firms in California. He was one of the youngest attorneys ever to personally appear and argue before the U.S. Supreme Court. See

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