Zombie plaintiff case breathes

The Madison County Record Feb. 14, 2009, 3:53am

It's been a year since we last examined Manny Hernandez' class action lawsuit against American Family Insurance.

Hernandez, you may remember, died of a heart attack in 2004. But his class action about payouts on medical bills from car crashes lives on.

Thanks to then-Lakin Law Firm lawyer Jeff Millar, that is, who wouldn't let a questionable class action case go to the grave with Hernandez.

Millar didn't even bother to tell Judge Dan Stack that his client died. American Family made the discovery two years after his death and informed the court.

Now Hernandez' lawsuit has a cadre of new plaintiffs and a new lawyer.

More than nine years after he started pursuing this case for the biggest class action outfit in Madison County, Millar was unceremoniously fired by the Lakin Law Firm on Dec. 29.

And more than four years after the lead plaintiff died, Judge Stack decided last week to allow five chiropractors, none from Madison County, to take Hernandez' place as the plaintiffs carrying this "zombie" case.

All allege being cheated on reimbursements by American Family. One says the company paid only $39 on a $40 bill, cheating him out of a whole dollar. Two others say the company owes $4 each.

Imagine that. Nearly a decade-long lawsuit, meandering through the Madison County system at taxpayer expense, and we're down to a handful of traveling chiropractors demanding an insurance company should give them coffee money.

Critics of lawyer-driven litigation consider this case Exhibit A.

Judge Stack's endless deference in allowing the Lakins to keep this case alive is beyond disappointing.

It's time for the profession to speak out about dubious class action cases fronted by put-up pawns.

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