The California Supreme Court has rejected a bid by Mercury Insurance Group to charge customers for branding costs.
The high court refused to hear the Mid-City company’s appeal of a lower court ruling that upheld the authority of the state insurance commissioner to prohibit Mercury from passing on $2.8 million in branding costs to its policyholders, Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones announced Friday.
The Supreme Court’s decision not to accept the appeal was revealed in a terse case update filing on Wednesday, but not publicized until Friday.
In February, a state appellate court in Sacramento upheld Jones’ authority to order Mercury to reduce its rates, which included a denial of a request by Mercury to pass on $2.8 million in brand advertising costs to its ratepayers, including the cost of a sponsorship for a tennis tournament in Carlsbad. The court said that general brand advertising that does not provide information to current and potential policyholders was not a permissible use of policyholder money.
“In this most recent victory, the courts rejected the insurers’ claim that they have a First Amendment right to charge policyholders for the cost of the Mercury Insurance Tennis Open or flying a blimp over the Super Bowl with the insurer’s name on the side,” Jones said in a statement. “Consumers should not have to pay for brand advertising that only benefits the insurance company and provides no meaningful information to consumers.”
Mercury Insurance issued its own statement in response to the Supreme Court’s rejection of its appeal.
“We’re disappointed with the ruling, however, we accept the court’s decision and we will continue to provide California insurance consumers with some of the lowest rates in the state,” the company said. “Mercury Insurance customers already know how competitive our rates are, and the California Department of Insurance 2017 rate comparison study proves that Mercury’s rates are among the lowest in the state.”
Public policy and energy reporter Howard Fine can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @howardafine.