State Farm defense attorney Shultz says 'time will tell' Avery's impact

Steve Korris Aug. 23, 2005, 12:32pm

Six years ago Edwardsville attorney Robert Shultz defended State Farm Insurance in the Avery class action trial. His side lost by a billion dollars.

Even though the Illinois Supreme Court has wiped out the verdict, Shultz does not gloat.

“The Supreme Court opinion has answered a lot of questions that judges and lawyers in Madison County have had,” he said. “Only time will tell what the real effect is.”

Shultz said the Avery case was the first he had taken to verdict in Williamson County.

“I was added to the trial team probably 18 months before it was tried,” he said. “I was one of the lead trial lawyers.”

Circuit Judge John Speroni ruled prior to trial that State Farm’s uniform obligation to policyholders constituted a single contract. He would not let State Farm tell jurors about differences in its policies or in state laws.

The jury ruled that State Farm violated the contract.

But, the Supreme Court ruled Aug. 18 that, “There was no contract.”

The Court also threw out Speroni’s ruling that State Farm violated Illinois consumer fraud law. Speroni had conducted a simultaneous fraud trial without a jury, awarding the plaintiff class $600 million in punitive damages.

On the fraud claim, the Court declared that the Illinois law applies only to transactions in Illinois.

Most Madison County plaintiffs rely on Illinois consumer fraud law in proposing national class actions.

Shultz said some have asked if these cases will “go away.” He said they may not, because plaintiffs often rely on consumer fraud laws of Illinois and other states.

“Every case is different,” Shultz remarked.

He said he would review all pending class action cases in light of the Avery decision.

“Every case has to be evaluated separately and have the law applied to it separately.”

Citing client confidentiality, Shultz would not say how many class actions he defends.

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