Hylla wants more documentation on fees and liability before approving United Life class settlement

Amelia Flood Jan. 18, 2011, 12:55am


Madison County Circuit Judge David Hylla wants more documentation of what fees and expenses the class attorneys in a 2001 suit against United Life Insurance Co. incurred before he approves a settlement reached last year.

Hylla questioned attorneys on matters related to the suit's claims, fees and the lack of an admission of liability by the insurance company at a Friday fairness year.

The class led by lead plaintiff Christopher Booher claims that United Life did not disclose a commission it paid to car dealers who persuaded class members to purchase credit insurance when they financed new cars.

The suit contends that had class members known about the commission they could have negotiated better deals.

The total settlement is $160,000.

Booher will receive $2,500.

Class members will receive damages of about the amount they paid on the credit insurance. That total, according to statements made at Friday's hearing, total about $19.50 per class member.

Attorney Robert Schmieder II and the rest of the class counsel team take home $64,000 in legal fees and costs if Hylla approves the settlement as is.

According to the motion for final approval of the settlement filed Jan. 7, there were no objections to the settlement and one class member opted out.

United Life does not admit to any fault under the settlement.

The insurance company also will administer the settlement fund.

Booher, the lead plaintiff in the suit, is a high school class mate of Bradley Lakin's.

Lakin is the managing partner of the Wood River law firm of LakinChapman LL -- the class counsel.

Booher has led at least one other Madison County class action.

The United Life class action is one of the many originated in Madison and St. Clair Counties by the then partnership of the Lakin Law Firm and the Chicago firm of Freed & Weiss.

That partnership collapsed in 2007.

The case was originally a nation-wide class that was whittled down by former Madison County Circuit Judge Don Weber in May 2006.

Former Madison County Circuit Judge Phillip Kardis had previously certified the nationwide class.

During Friday's hearing, Hylla questioned Schmieder and United Life's attorney James Garrison about the lack of admission of fault.

In his on-record summary of the suit, Schmieder admitted that as the case went on it became weakened due to rulings made by other courts in nearly identical suits.

When Hylla asked Garrison about the lack of liability admission by his client, Garrison echoed Schmieder's summary of the case progression and told the judge there were problems of proof.

"The defendant firmly believes that had this case been tried, we would have prevailed," Garrison said.

Hylla questioned Schmieder about the $64,000 in fees and costs.

Schmieder told the judge that during mediation that led to the settlement his team took 40 percent of the lower number – the $160,000 – and that they had worked over the number of hours included in the agreed fee number.

The class counsel also noted the amount class members would receive.

He told Hylla his team took a lower fee in order to ensure that class members got a bigger pay-out.

"It is an extraordinary result for the class," Schmieder said of the settlement.

Hylla then asked Schmieder to prepare more documents outlining his team's fees and costs.

The judge said he would review those documents and then enter his decision on whether or not to approve the final class settlement.

The case is Madison case number 01-L-1824

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