The California Department of Insurance (CDI) has begun legal proceedings against The Hartford Insurance Group alleging that the company charged illegal fees.

The complaint contends that The Hartford allowed one of its agents, Irvine-based Superior Access Insurance Services, to charge and collect fees not approved by the Department of Insurance. CDI must approve all property and casualty insurance rates and charges pursuant to Proposition 103 and other laws.

"No person or company is above the law," said California Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi. "These laws are intended to protect consumers against all types of fraud, and I intend to actively enforce them to their fullest extent."

Superior Access denied the charges and said its fees were charged to agents, not to customers.

"Superior Access is an insurance wholesale intermediary. In that capacity, Superior Access has never charged an insurance customer any fees or premiums. All Superior Access business is conducted solely with licensed insurance brokers and not with insurance customers. Fees charged to brokers are not required to be filed with the CDI as part of the insurer's rate filing," the company said in a letter to Insurance Daily.

The Department contends that Superior Access, with Hartford's knowledge, added unapproved fees, typically around $100 per policy, to the premium Hartford was allowed to charge by law. Thousands of commercial and personal line policyholders likely paid the illegal fees on workers' compensation and business owner package policies.

Although Hartford did not actually receive the fees, California law treats the fees as if Hartford did receive them, since they were received by Superior Access as Hartford's agent. The Department is investigating several general agents and insurance companies for similar infractions.