Avery and pain without hurt

The Madison County Record Aug. 21, 2005, 2:13pm

No harm, no foul, and no billion-dollar class action lawsuit.

Such was the word from Illinois’ Supreme Court last week, tossing a billion-dollar verdict against State Farm Insurance and, in the process, reacquainting all of us with a concept of judicial common sense.

A court cannot issue damages where there is no damage.


In Avery v. State Farm, Michael Avery and the accusers claimed they were hurt by the insurance company’s method of auto repair. Their “injury” was that after accidents, State Farm would fix its cars with “aftermarket” parts rather than the more expensive branded ones.

Avery and company didn’t suggest these were faulty parts. They didn’t allege that their cars were shoddily repaired by State Farm and didn’t run properly. But they still wanted cash for “damages,” forcing State Farm and its policyholders to fund eight years of litigation to prove the company’s innocence.

All for the equivalent of doling out Walgreen’s brand shampoo rather than Pantene or cheap gas instead of the Amoco Ultimate.

No harm-- but a major legal bill, and higher insurance costs for the rest of us.

Too bad this sort of thing happens too often these days.

Avery is merely one in a swarm of “victimless” lawsuits brought over the past decade in Southern Illinois courts. The plaintiffs hardly notice the “wrong” committed against them, but that doesn’t stop them from telling the judge they’re due millions upon millions of dollars for their phantom troubles.

In Avery, the brand of parts under the paint and hood were the billion-dollar offender. In Price v. Philip Morris it was light cigarette advertising, citing no victims but $10.1 billion in damages. The Illinois Supreme Court should have something soon to say on that one as well.

When “fraud” is the claim, big verdicts with high paydays are the game. That's why plaintiff's attorneys are driven to conjure up the creative. It's the money—- not grass-roots consumer outrage—- that drives the action.

We’re glad our state’s highest court can recognize the difference.

Rewarding lawyers less for their frivolous "fraud" creations should mean fewer of them. That's why today is a better one for our state's civil justice system.

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