Colorado class members object to settlement in Bemis v. USAA

Steve Korris Sep. 8, 2005, 2:09am

Circuit Judge Nicholas Byron

Attorneys on opposite sides of a national class action suit over medical payments thought they had settled, but they forgot to check with Colorado participants.

Now two Colorado women who wanted no part of the settlement have asked Madison County Circuit Judge Nicholas Byron to postpone its final approval.

Byron has already granted preliminary approval of a proposed settlement in a suit that chiropractor Gerald Bemis filed in 2001 against United Services Automobile Association (USAA).

“Class counsel in Bemis ignored the request and entered into a settlement that provides no extra compensation and no recognition of the marked differences in remedies and protections for Colorado residents,” wrote attorney Timothy Scott of Chicago in objection to the proposed settlement.

Scott represents Carol Rollin and Bethany Bonvillain, who sued USAA in Boulder County, Colo., last year. Although they are not named plaintiffs in the Bemis case, they are members of the proposed class.

While drafting a reply on class certification, Scott wrote that he learned of the settlement agreement in Madison County, and it "surprised" him.

He had advised attorneys for the plaintiffs to treat Colorado differently, either excluding it from the national class or certifying it as a subclass, Scott wrote.

Jeffrey Millar of the Lakin Law Firm in Wood River filed the complaint.

In his motion for leave to file objections, Scott wrote that Colorado law offers enhanced penalties, remedies and advantages.

Scott wrote that USAA sees the settlement as “a sweetheart deal where they are only required to satisfy the lowest common denominator among class members.”

Bemis and co-plaintiff Brooke Walker claimed that USAA paid less than the full medical bills of persons injured in auto accidents.

Byron certified the suit as a national class action in 2003. He kept setting hearings last year and this year, but the parties kept asking to continue them.

On June 23, a settlement was announced. USAA denied any wrongdoing.

The next Monday, June 27, Byron conditionally certified the class as defined in the settlement. The definition covered all those injured in accidents covered by USAA policies with “Medpay” provisions, back to 1991.

Byron designated the Lakin firm and Freed and Weiss of Chicago as class counsel. He designated Rust Consulting of Faribault, Minn., as settlement administrator.

Scott had asked Byron to address his concerns before distributing a settlement notice, writing that if a notice goes out, he would move to intervene.

Byron has set an Oct. 21 hearing on final approval of the settlement.

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