Avery plays starring role in Madison County class action drama

Steve Korris Aug. 17, 2006, 10:39am

As the next scene of Madison County's class action drama begins, the actors have pulled the curtain so taxpayers cannot watch.

On three straight days insurer AIG and the Lakin Law Firm filed briefs under seal in connected suits over medical bills from car crashes.

It's not as easy to file cases under seal these days in Madison County. In May a new rule was adopted that "no pleading, document or exhibit may be filed under seal unless authorized by order of court."

AIG not only sealed its arguments but also locked them in a cabinet.

AIG recently sprang a triple attack on Lakin class actions, seeking decisions in its favor from three judges at once.

In two cases AIG relied on last year's Illinois Supreme Court decision in Avery v. State Farm, overturning a $1.2 billion Williamson County verdict.

For months after the Avery decision, AIG and other insurers stayed in the background while GEICO pressed Circuit Judge Nicholas Byron to decertify a class action led by Myron Billups.

In June Byron decertified the Billups class. He urged Brad Lakin to appeal but Billups settled his individual claim and the case closed.

Other defendants mobilized, with AIG in front.

The insurer asked Byron for summary judgment to halt a proposed class action that the Lakin firm filed for plaintiff Kerry Hanke in 2001.

The Lakin firm composed a response and filed it Aug. 3, under seal.

Byron set a hearing on summary judgment Aug. 18, after press time.

He has set a Sept. 15 hearing on class certification.

AIG also asked Circuit Judge Don Weber for summary judgment in a class action of chiropractors Mark Eavenson and Andrew Morningstar.

Morningstar sued in 2002. Eavenson, who has filed more than 20 class actions in Madison County, later replaced Morningstar as lead plaintiff.

They seek damages from AIG affiliates American International Insurance, Illinois National Insurance, AIG Claim Services and AIG Marketing.

As in the case before Byron, the Lakin firm brought the question of class certification to the court while AIG sought to shut down the suit.

Weber set a class certification hearing Aug. 29, reserving a whole day.

AIG filed a class certification memorandum under seal Aug. 2. Two days later it filed an answer to the complaint, also under seal.

According to the docket both briefs went to a locked cabinet.

Weber cancelled the Aug. 29 class certification hearing and set it Sept. 21.

As the drama proceeded in the dark, a sideshow shed a little light.

On Aug. 3 attorney Joseph Whyte moved for partial summary judgment on behalf of the third and fourth defendants, AIG Claim Services and AIG Marketing.

He wrote that plaintiffs could not claim breach of contract against them because neither company was a party to a contract.

The companies handled claims and did not write insurance, he wrote.

They could not be held derivatively liable as undisclosed principals, instrumentalities or alter egos of the first two defendants, he wrote.

"Plaintiffs have not and cannot prove a sufficient factual basis for the extraordinary step of piercing the corporate veil…," he wrote.

All the defendants were duly incorporated, operated pursuant to charters and bylaws, with their own directors exercising authority through regular meetings, he wrote.

"Each defendant has sufficient capital and surplus to meet its obligations as they come due," he wrote.

On AIG's third front, it asked Circuit Judge Lola Maddox to transfer a proposed class action of Thomas Springman to Jersey County.

Maddox denied the motion July 10. As of Aug. 14 the docket showed no further action.

More News