Wanted: dead or alive

The Madison County Record May 30, 2010, 3:57pm

TV bounty hunter Josh Randall, played by Steve McQueen, collected rewards for bringing in fugitives dead or alive.

Likewise undiscriminating, the plaintiffs' attorneys at LakinChapman operate in a similar fashion, representing clients with or without brain waves, heart beats, or breath.

Manny Hernandez was one such client, whose case the Wood River law firm continues to champion in Madison County district court six years after his demise. In fact, it took his attorneys two years even to admit that Hernandez was no longer among the living – and even that was only because the defendant, American Family Insurance, had discovered the pertinent fact and brought it to the attention of Circuit Judge Daniel Stack.

Hernandez died of a heart attack in 2004, but his class action suit accusing American Family of shortchanging its customers on reimbursements for medical bills continued.

Attorney Brad Lakin considered Manny's death "irrelevant" to the case and Judge Stack evidently agreed, for he has consistently indulged the LakinChapman resurrectionists ever since. They first tried to substitute Hernandez's widow as the representative of the putative class, then settled on a quintet of chiropractors, one of whom claimed to have been cheated out of a whole dollar.

The lawyers for the living dead at LakinChapman then decided they would force American Family to find plaintiffs for them, demanding that the insurance company comb through 15 years of files to identify potential class members – an effort that American Family estimated would cost over a million dollars and take two years or more to complete.

Unwilling to wait that long, Lakin Chapman decided instead to send solicitation letters to medical providers and run notices in 700 newspapers, all at American Family's expense. Ten years and running and LakinChapman still hasn't come up with a compelling case.

Once the representative of a member-less class, Manny Hernandez is survived by a class with no representative. He has thus achieved a kind of immortality, living on in a lawsuit that won't die.

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