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It's not too late to change your mind

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was last updated in July 1997. If you weren't part of the Prudential class, it is too late to join.

About 1.1 million policyholders chose the accelerated dispute resolution option by the June 10 deadline. Other policyholders chose basic claim relief, while some opted out of the process entirely, allowing them to pursue their own lawsuits against the insurance giant.

Even though the selection deadline has passed, you may still be able to change which category you're in -- as long as you haven't signed and returned the paperwork you got from Prudential.

Those who chose basic claim relief are entitled to so-called "enhanced products" from Prudential. Some who chose this route have complained they didn't have enough time to make an educated decision. Others have questioned why you'd want to buy more insurance from a company that bilked you in the first place.

If you originally chose basic claim relief and now want to change your mind, you do have some options.

First, make sure you haven't already signed the basic claim relief paperwork you received from the company. If you already signed it and sent it back, it's too late.

One way to let the company know you've changed your mind is to call the claimant help line at (800) 736-8913. Tell them you want to choose accelerated dispute resolution. Once you've done that, you'll get a new packet of paperwork from Prudential.

The other way is to send the whole basic claim relief packet back to Prudential unsigned, along with a note indicating you've changed your mind. Make a copy of the note for yourself. (Some have recommended making two other copies -- for the plaintiffs' attorneys and for your state's insurance department -- and sending them by certified mail.)

Policyholders may find themselves in one of three categories:

If you opted out of the settlement process entirely, you probably are considering whether you should pursue action on your own. There are small law firms all over the country talking with their clients about this.

And, there is one large law firm that is ready to take on Prudential. California's fourth largest law firm, Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro, is suing Prudential on behalf of 78 Californians who opted out of the class-action suit. Another law firm, Wilner, Klein & Siegel, also is participating in the suit.

The firm plans to file suits in New York, Florida, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Illinois, Virginia, Washington and Nevada as well. The California suit terms the Prudential case the "largest, greediest and most irresponsible corporate scheme of this century."

Some smaller firms, representing some of the 20,000 Prudential customers who opted out, have joined forces with Pillsbury because the firm is big, has lots of clout and has one of the country's best litigators -- Ken Chiate -- working the case as the lead lawyer.

If you'd like more information about the Pillsbury suit, you can call (213) 488-7178.

A law firm in Pennsylvania has appealed the settlement itself to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia.

The appeal by Malakoff Doyle & Finberg includes arguments that the District Court in New Jersey didn't have jurisdiction over the national class-action suit, that the $90 million in fees negotiated for the lead counsel in the lawsuit was excessive, and that the lawyers for some policyholders were excluded from the process.

Time to tell your story

If you elected to participate in the accelerated dispute resolution process (ADR), it's time to tell your story to the company. If you have supporting documents and witnesses, that's great. But the company says that won't be necessary to make a claim.

What you do have to do, however, is get all the facts down as you remember them. And you must fill out the forms supplied by Prudential and return them by the dates that are specified -- usually within about 90 days of when you received the information from the company.

If you don't have documents that back up your claims, sometimes it can be useful to talk with someone who was advising you at the time you purchased the insurance. Sometimes your lawyer or accountant can help you with this. If you remember the agent and are still in touch, there is nothing preventing him or her from helping you with the information.

Try to remember if you had a specific goal in mind when you bought the insurance. Then ask yourself whether you met it.

Martin Weiss, founder of Weiss Inc., a Florida-based rating company, also recommends that you get all the information from the company that you can.

"With your contract you should be able to determine the basic goal of the product," he said.

If you have questions with the ADR process, you can try calling the company's toll free help line, which is staffed by independent representatives, though our readers have had mixed results with that.

Some readers have told us the help line was tremendously helpful and that they immediately got the information they needed. Others said that they got misinformation and no help whatsoever. So, if you find you are reaching a dead end with your particular operator, you might want to call back and try another representative. The number is (800) 736-8913.

Prudential also has a number you can call, (800) 837-3645.

Finally, if you are still having trouble getting information, you might want to consider calling your state insurance department. Go to this page and select your state in the box at the top of the page. Then select "pick a state."

Do you need it or not?

If you decided to participate in the basic claim relief process, you should be getting information from the company about the enhanced products you are entitled to and their terms.

The first thing to remember is this: If you don't need it, don't buy it just because they are offering it.

If you do need the kind of product they are offering, your next question is whether you can get a better deal elsewhere from a company with a higher rating. If you haven't already, you should consider consulting an independent agent who might be able to give you some sense of whether the product you are being offered by Prudential meets your specific needs.

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