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Court Allows GEICO to Intervene in Records Case

(CN) - GEICO can intervene in a public-records case to try to protect information the insurer provided to the New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance, a state appeals court ruled.

In 2004, GEICO applied to re-enter the state private passenger car auto insurance market. The application required that it submit supporting documents containing details on how it conducts business, targets markets and sets rates for policyholders.

GEICO's assistant vice president said that if the information were made public, GEICO's competitors would "receive an unfair, free windfall because it (would) save them millions of dollars over several years to develop their own rating systems."

But two years later, state Sen. Nia Gill, chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, filed an Open Public Records Act request for the information. She wanted to know if insurers were using "occupation" and "education" as underwriting factors to skirt the ban on using race and income to set car insurance rates.

The state insurance department granted her limited access to public government records, but excluded those containing "trade secrets and proprietary commercial information or financial information obtained from any sources."

The department notified GEICO and then washed its hands of the matter, saying GEICO was on its own to justify the continued protection of its records.

The council refused to let GEICO intervene in the Government Records Council proceeding, but the appeals court reversed.

"GEICO must be permitted to intervene as a party to protect its interests where the (department) itself has indicated unwillingness to do so," Judge Winkelstein wrote.

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