Madison County Circuit Judge Barbara Crowder has certified a class action for LakinChapman law firm over hundreds of thousands of bills that insurer Safeco paid in 14 states over 12 years.

"The attorneys from LakinChapman have regularly engaged in major complex litigation of a size, scope and complexity similar to this case and settled many and varied class actions and other complex litigation," Crowder wrote in a March 25 order.

LakinChapman client Frank Bemis, an Alton chiropractor, will represent the class.

Bemis alleges breach of contract, claiming Safeco improperly used third party software to reduce payments for treatments of car crash victims.

Crowder began her order by writing that, "The Supreme Court of Illinois has recognized class actions as an important litigation tool."

A court considering class certification should understand claims, defenses, facts and law, she wrote, but "the court may not consider the probability of success on the merits."

She rejected Safeco's plea that individual issues predominated over common issues due to variations in automobile policies.

"Essentially all of the policy formulations require payment of medical expenses that are usual, customary, reasonable and necessary," she wrote.

Safeco used the same software for all policies, she wrote.

She brushed off Safeco's claim that individual issues predominated due to variations in contract laws of 14 states.

"To the extent that there may be any minor variations in state law, this can be addressed through sub-classing or special jury instructions," she wrote.

"It is recognized that the law of contract is generally uniform among the fifty states," she wrote.

She rejected Safeco's argument that each class member would have to establish that his or her charges were reasonable.

She preferred a LakinChapman approach finding damages "susceptible to a formulaic resolution based on actual billed charges, or to expert damage calculation based on a statistical analysis."

"Considering the relatively small amount at issue per class member, the extensive discovery required to litigate this controversy, the vast number of class members, the limited judicial resources, and the likelihood of inconsistent adjudications, this Court finds that a class action is an appropriate method for the fair and efficient adjudication of the controversy," she wrote.

The class includes everyone who claimed medical expenses from Safeco since 1997 in Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, South Dakota, Texas, Wisconsin and West Virginia.

John McMullin and Holly Turner of Brown and James in St. Louis represent Safeco along with Cari Dawson and Tiffany Powers of Alston and Bird in Atlanta.

Last June Crowder certified a smaller class action that the former Lakin Law Firm filed against Liberty Mutual for chiropractor Thomas Kaltenbronn.

That order covered only workers compensation claims in Illinois.

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