Corpse replaced with chiropractors in 6th amended complaint against American Family

Steve Korris Feb. 27, 2008, 1:13am



Lakin Law Firm attorneys who have kept a Madison County class action alive with a dead class representative for four years propose to replace the corpse with a far flung band of chiropractors.

Jeff Millar introduced the new cast of characters Feb. 1, in the firm's sixth amended complaint against American Family Insurance.

Like class representative Manuel Hernandez, the chiropractors claim the insurer improperly reduced payouts on medical bills from car crashes.

None of the plaintiffs lives or works in Madison County.

Kruse and Manley Clinic of Sioux City, Iowa, claim American Family cheated it out of a dollar, paying $39 on a $40 bill.

Matthew Chenault of Greenville Rehab and Pain Clinic in Greenville, Ill., alleges an improper $4 reduction, from $60 to $56.

Anthony Wolf of Indianapolis and Breann Moddes of Tempe, Ariz., allege improper $4 reductions, from $40 to $36.

Kent Marshall of Henderson, Nevada, alleges an improper $22 reduction, from $60 to $38.

Charles Vifquain of Lees Summit, Mo., alleges an improper $26 reduction, from $75 to $49.

They claim breach of contract but they can't begin to prove it.

"Class plaintiffs lack copies of those individual policies and thus cannot attach them to this pleading," Millar wrote to Circuit Judge Daniel Stack.

Millar figures the defense should supply the evidence.

"AFI has possession of those policies," he wrote.

The Lakins sued American Family in 2000, on behalf of Hernandez.

In 2002 Stack, as associate judge, certified Hernandez as representative of a class in 17 states.

In 2005, as circuit judge, he trimmed the class to 11 states. By then Hernandez had died, but Stack didn't know it.

When the news reached Stack at last, it didn't come from the Lakins.
American Family attorneys reported the death, in 2006.

The Lakins tried to substitute his widow, Nora Hernandez, but Stack rejected her because she didn't belong to the class.

She sued along with the chiropractors in Millar's new complaint anyway, as her husband's personal representative.

According to Millar, American Family carried out a scheme with software contractors Mitchell International and ADP Claims Solution Group.

"AFI purchased, leased and/or used the Mitchell and ADP software to systematically underpay Medpay claims," he wrote.

"AFI uses/used Mitchell and ADP reports as a subterfuge, for their true purpose is to intentionally reduce AFI's first-party medpay claims payouts, and to increase profits," he wrote.

American Family rewards claims adjusters for low payments and instructs them in adversarial use of Mitchell and ADP reports, he wrote.

"Thus, from the beginning of the claims process, the claims adjuster's interests conflict with the insured's," he wrote.

He urged Stack to disregard arbitration clauses, arguing that arbitration would be prohibitively expensive.

"AFI inserted the arbitration clause in its form insurance policies as part of its fraudulent scheme," he wrote.

He argued that American Family designed the clause to prevent the class from effectively vindicating statutory and common law causes of action.

"Absent a class action," he wrote, "AFI will continue in its deceptive course of conduct and will retain its ill-gotten profits."

He estimated the class in the tens of thousands.

The class definition covers claims from 1990 to the date of final judgment.

The class includes Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Arizona, Nevada and Idaho.

Claims from Colorado count too, but only since 2003.

In addition to breach of contract, Millar claimed consumer fraud for each class member under the law of his or her own state.

Below Millar's signature on the complaint appear the names of Brad Lakin and Jonathan Piper of the Lakin firm.

Paul Weiss of Chicago also appears there.

The Lakins and Weiss's firm, Freed and Weiss, ended their class action partnership and battled over fees in Madison and Cook counties last year.

They recently settled their differences.

During the dispute, Piper left Freed and Weiss to join the Lakin firm.

William D. Stiehl Jr. of Belleville, son of U.S. District Judge William Stiehl, also put his name on the complaint.

Anthony Martin and Timothy Sansone of Sandberg, Phoenix and Von Gontard in St. Louis represent American Family.

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