Richard Burke

A few weeks ago, the Lakin Law Firm issued a press release urging potential class members to make claims against dozens of automobile insurers who have agreed to pay approximately $92 million to settle a Madison County class action lawsuit.

At issue were the values insurers assigned to wrecked vehicles.

The only problem with the April 10 urgent appeal to consumers was that the final day claimants could apply for a piece of the pie was March 6.

Approximately three million notices were mailed to potential claimants across the country, according to Garden City Group (GCG) the settlement administrator in charge of processing the claims.

Claimants who received a mailed notice were directed to a website called the "Total Loss Class Action Settlement (, and then directed to fill out a proof of claim form which was to be mailed by March 6.

Motorists who accepted payouts on "total loss" crashes between Jan. 28, 1989 through July 18, 2005, will qualify for up to $132 under a pair of settlement orders that Associate Circuit Judge Ralph Mendelsohn signed Dec. 20, 2005.

The order also provides more than $16 million for class counsel at the Lakin Law Firm of Wood River and four Chicago law firms.

Mendelsohn's first order covered 10 separate class action suits from 2001 through 2003. His second order covered a single class action suit from 2003.

The plaintiffs alleged that insurers obtained biased valuation reports from CCC Information Services and improperly reduced the value of vehicles declared total losses.

The settlement requires CCC to employ someone to monitor its total loss valuation methods for five years. But the settlement includes no admission of liability or wrongdoing by CCC or its customers.

The lead attorney in the 10 consolidated cases was Richard Burke of the Lakin firm. The lead attorney in the other case was William Harte of Chicago.

Burke wrote to Mendelsohn that, "After years of hard fought litigation and years of arms length negotiations, the parties reached a Settlement Agreement."

He wrote that the agreement relied on an expert examination of 189,124 total losses.

Burke estimated the settlement value of his 10 suits at $52 million, and the value of the combined settlement at $92 million.

He wrote that defendants in his 10 cases would pay $9.5 million in legal fees and expenses to the Lakin firm and Freed and Weiss of Chicago.

In the other case, Harte wrote to Mendelsohn that his firm and two other firms in Chicago would receive $6.6 million.

Settlement class members were defined as:

"All persons who, from January 28, 1989 through July 18, 2005, (a) insured a private passenger automobile, truck, or van with the gross vehicle weight of 10,000 pounds or less issued under an auto insurance policy by one or more of the insurance carriers who settled (b) made a first-party property damage claim to one or more of the carriers for physical damage to that insured automobile, truck, or van; (c) were informed by the carrier that the vehicle had been declared a total loss; and where (d) the carrier had requested a valuation from CCC Information Services Inc. ("CCC"); and (e) the insured was tendered a payment from the Carrier for the totaled vehicle."

Motorists excluded from the class were:

  • Officers, directors, and employees of the Carriers, CCC, and Class Counsel;
  • Members of the Illinois state court judiciary and their immediate families; and
  • All persons who have timely elected to opt out of or exclude themselves from the settlement class in accordance with the court's orders.

    Garden City has handled other class action cases from Madison County.

    In 2003, GCG was the settlement administrator in Ragan v. Travelers Property Casualty

    It also handled the class action case against Illinois Bell in which claimants were given phone cards to use at payphones operated by Illinois Bell.

    Based in Melville, New York, GCU's website touts that it provides comprehensive solutions to: administer class actions, design legal notice programs and manage Chapter 11 claims administrations.

    In 1984, the company was founded as Settlement Administration Services, a business unit of Main Hurdman & Co., an accounting and consulting firm which was later merged into Peat Marwick, now KPMG.

    A year later it established headquarters in New York.

    In 1994, GCU emerged as an independent company after a management buyout of productive assets from KPMG, including staff, leaseholds, hardware, and software.

    In 1996, it hit the $1 billion mark in funds distributed from class action cases.

    According to its website, "Clients appreciate our neutrality--we serve the needs of counsel and corporations alike. We're proud of our track record that inspires client confidence and trust."

    Calls to CGU, and Freed & Weiss went unreturned.

    Steve Korris contributed to this report

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