No morbid curiosity: Stack grants substitution of dead plaintiff in American Family case

Steve Korris Feb. 12, 2009, 2:00pm

Madison County Circuit Judge Daniel Stack patiently waited for the Lakin Law Firm to find substitutes for a dead class action leader, and after three years the Lakins delivered.

On Feb. 3 Stack certified two chiropractors and three chiropractic clinics to replace the late Manuel Hernandez as leader of a class action against American Family Insurance.

Hernandez died in 2004, two years after Stack certified him to lead a class of accident victims claiming American Family cheated on medical bills.

Lakin lawyers didn't tell Stack he died. American Family lawyers told Stack, in 2006.

Stack had held hearings and signed orders all the while, for a corpse.

American Family lawyers urged Stack to determine whether the Lakins concealed his death or didn't know he died, but Stack did not share their morbid curiosity.

American Family argued that the class action died with Hernandez because the court never sent notices to class members, but again Stack disagreed.

After nine years on defense in a class action covering 12 states, American Family must now deal with new facts and claims.

The insurer would have fared better if its bloodhounds hadn't sniffed death.

American Family can count on conflict among class counsel.

Pleadings in the case continue to carry Paul Weiss's name along with the Lakin firm, and the fee fight they apparently settled a year ago has erupted again.

American Family's final brief on substitution predicted that renewal of hostilities between Weiss and the Lakins would render them inadequate as class counsel.

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