A decade of litigation

The Madison County Record Apr. 25, 2010, 9:16am

"It's got some whiskers on it."

That's how Madison County Circuit Judge Dan Stack described a class action suit against the Hartford Insurance Co. that's coming to a conclusion after 10 years in court.

"It's been around a long time," he noted.

On April 6th, Stack granted preliminary approval to a $10 million settlement -- $7.5 million for the tens of thousands of members of a class allegedly undercompensated by Hartford, $2.5 million for the handful of attorneys representing them.

With the Lakin Law Firm of Wood River in her corner, plaintiff Winnie Madison filed suit in 2000, alleging that Hartford violated the terms of its insurance policies by systematically reducing payments on bills submitted by medical providers.

We've wondered for years about how she came upon the alleged violation. With settlement at hand we may never find out.

Stack finally certified the case as a class action in 2008, thereby raising the stakes for Hartford and intensifying the incentive to settle.

Though obviously intended to be comical, Judge Stack's ironic comment about the lawsuit that grew facial hair in his courtroom raises serious questions about the justness of the justice system in Madison County.

Why did it take 10 years to resolve? Will the alleged victims be fairly compensated when the settlement is divvied up amongst the thousands of them? Who really was victimized? How much did this decade-long dispute cost the taxpayers of Madison County? Was it worth the time devoted by the court, the judge, and attorneys on both sides? Who besides the plaintiffs attorneys truly benefitted from the disposition of the case?

The antagonists resemble the Hatfields and the McCoys, likewise bearded, who feuded for so long they no longer could remember what the feud was about.

But this wasn't a feud. It was legal maneuvering for attrition, driven by trial lawyers leveraging familiarity of their home turf to pressure Hartford to finally cough up some cash to get out of town.

That's big cash for the suing lawyers and pocket change for the class "victims." Some plaintiff lawyers apparently prefer whiskers to being clean cut.

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