To settle false advertising charges brought by three California District Attorneys, Liberty Mutual will pay almost $1 million and stop promoting an “accident forgiveness” benefit in its auto policies that is illegal under state law.
The insurer launched a national television campaign in 2014 to promote its “accident forgiveness” car insurance program. Many of the ads—which featured the Statue of Liberty in the background—focused exclusively on the program’s benefits to consumers, and Liberty Mutual estimated they reached 70 to 80 percent of California consumers. One problem: the California Department of Insurance prohibits “accident forgiveness” provisions in auto insurance policies in the state.
In response, the District Attorneys in Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Diego Counties filed suit against Liberty Mutual Group, Inc., and Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Company. The DAs alleged that the ad campaign ran afoul of California’s Unfair Competition Law and False Advertising Law because the ads failed to clearly and conspicuously disclose material facts that viewers need to avoid being misled.
The ads conveyed an overall impression that California consumers would receive the “accident forgiveness” benefit as part of their Liberty Mutual car insurance, the DAs said.
To settle the charges, Liberty Mutual agreed to pay $925,000 (civil penalties of $830,000 and agency costs of $95,000), evenly divided between the three counties. The insurer admitted no wrongdoing but is subject to an injunction requiring full compliance with California’s advertising laws.
Why it matters: Advertising a benefit unavailable to California consumers in television ads that reached a majority of state residents was enough to convince three state DAs to bring suit against Liberty Mutual and reach a deal for almost $1 million.