Lawyers take $9 million fee in 10-year-old Allstate class action

Steve Korris Aug. 21, 2009, 1:37am





LakinChapman lawyers and their various friends and foes prepare to divide a $9 million fee they won from insurer Allstate with a client who in 10 years never connected his injury to his claim.

Madison County Circuit Judge Dennis Ruth granted preliminary approval to the fee and the rest of a settlement agreement on July 16.

Upon final approval, anyone that Allstate didn't fully reimburse for treatment of an injury in the last 20 years can file a claim to recover 60 cents on the dollar.

Lawyers who battled law firm founder Tom Lakin for control in 2002 and other lawyers who battled son Brad Lakin for control in 2007 would share the $9 million.

Brad Lakin tried in February to exclude former teammate Paul Weiss of Chicago, but Ruth included Weiss and appointed him to Lakin's steering committee.

Settlement soon followed in a case that defied settlement for a decade.

Brad Lakin filed the complaint on Oct. 26, 1999, alleging Allstate manufactured bogus disputes over necessity and reasonableness of medical bills.

The Lakins and Weiss had just begun filing class actions in Madison County in rapid succession under an agreement between their firms.

They accused Allstate of fraud under state and common law, plus breach of contract.

They moved to certify Dennis Strasen of Madison County as representative of a class that would include "many thousands."

They attached a $1,074 reduction notice from Allstate stating, "Medical records did not appear to document that the reported bodily injuries were solely or causally related to the incident which occurred on July 24, 1998."

Weiss and his partner Jonathan Flaum added their names, as did Chicago lawyers Michael Freed, Edward Joyce and Arthur Aufmann.

Timothy Campbell and Timothy Brinkley of Godfrey added their names.

Troy Bozarth of Edwardsville moved on Allstate's behalf to stay discovery, arguing that three similar national class actions were pending against Allstate.

Chicago lawyers Larry Drury, David Sullivan and Kirsten Knudsen had filed the suits in Cook County in 1994 and 1995.

Circuit Judge Philip Kardis held a hearing for Allstate on March 1, 2000, denied the stay and set a class certification hearing on March 30.

Strasen said in a deposition on March 13, 2000 that Allstate was obligated to pay the full amount of the bill.

"It's in the policy that they will pay the expenses incurred," he said.

Allstate asked for a different judge on March 15, 2000. Under Illinois that allows any party one free shot at substituting a judge without cause.

Chief Judge Andy Matoesian assigned the case to Circuit Judge Nicholas Byron.

Lakin filed an amended complaint that added Patricia Littleton of Marion and William Harte of Chicago to the legal team.

Littleton married federal judge Patrick Murphy and abandoned the class action field.

In 2001 Byron certified a class action for all states but Massachusetts.

Allstate asked the Illinois Supreme Court for a supervisory order vacating Byron's order, and the Supreme Court denied it.

Two Cook County plaintiffs, having lingered for years without class certification, moved to intervene in the Madison County class action.

Byron granted intervention and Lakin moved to consolidate all three cases.

Teamwork broke down in 2002, however, and Lakin excluded Joyce, Aufmann and Harte as class counsel.

The Chicago lawyers asked for a hearing and Byron held one, but he ejected Bozarth and sealed the pleadings and the transcript.

In 2003, Jeff Millar of the Lakin firm filed a consolidated class action complaint for Strasen, the Cook County plaintiffs and three new plaintiffs.

Allstate moved to dismiss, and in 2004 Byron overruled the motion.

An evidence motion in 2005 showed the usual roster of lawyers plus Lakin lawyer Richard Burke, Weiss partners Tod Lewis and William Sweetnam, five Kansas City lawyers and one from Wichita.

In 2006, after the Illinois Supreme Court soured on national class actions and discarded a 10-digit judgment against State Farm, Allstate moved to decertify the class.

The motion never came to a hearing, and teamwork again broke down.

Burke and Weiss sued Lakin, Lakin sued Burke and Weiss, and again the plaintiff team sought a secret hearing before Byron.

This time, Byron chose not to eject Bozarth.

The team didn't patch up their differences on the spot, though they later dismissed claims against each other.

They continue fighting for control and accusing each other of nefarious acts, however, and in that spirit Brad Lakin asked Ruth to exclude Weiss from the Allstate fee.

Ruth responded in April by denying the exclusion of Weiss and placing him on Lakin's steering committee along with Aufmann and Harte.

The settlement that quickly ensued would provide $12,500 for Strasen and the same amount for the other five plaintiffs to divide equally.

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