Plaintiffs’ attorneys alleging that State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. bought off an Illinois Supreme Court justice to evade a $1.05 billion award have cleared a major hurdle in their long-running litigation against the insurer.
In an order Friday, U.S. District Judge David Herndon of the Southern District of Illinois granted a motion certifying a class of roughly 4.7 million auto insurance policyholders who were allegedly deprived of their 1999 trial court victory against State Farm.
Herndon found that the alleged fixing of the state Supreme Court decision affected all the proposed class members uniformly, and that the named plaintiffs and their attorneys otherwise satisfied court rules around class actions.
“[T]he injury in this case is based on the interest the plaintiffs and the proposed class members had in a neutral forum and the damages correspond with the undivided interest in the judgment each lost as a result of the tainted tribunal,” the judge wrote. “This issue is identical for all plaintiffs and class members.”
The suit alleges violations of the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and could put State Farm on the hook for more than $7.6 billion because of interest that has accrued on the original jury award, according to plaintiffs lawyers.
Justin Tomczak, a State Farm spokesman, said the company plans to appeal the ruling “in the very near future.” He said, “Plaintiffs have unsuccessfully asserted and reasserted these allegations for many years and should not be permitted to do so any longer.”
The newly certified class is backed by a squadron of attorneys, led by Charles Barrett of Nashville-based Neal & Harwell, who couldn’t immediately be reached by email on Monday. Other firms involved include Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein; Hausfeld; Clifford Law Offices; and Ball & Scott.