State Farm car insurance policyholders received a partial answer to their nearly two-decade-old, billion-dollar question over the insurance company’s responsibility for paying a class action judgment on Sept. 16, 2016. On that date, a federal judge in State Farm’s home state of Illinois certified a civil RICO case involving claims that State Farm improperly funded the initial election campaign of an Illinois State Supreme Court justice.
The case goes back 1997, when State Farm policyholders originally won a nearly $1.2 billion award after presenting evidence that the company forced clients to accept repairs made with generic auto parts that invalidated warranties and failed to perform adequately. State Farm appealed the judgment all the way to Illinois’ highest court and won a dismissal.
After the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the dismissal, lawyers for the plaintiffs discovered that State Farm made large donations to the 2004 campaign of Lloyd Karmeier to the Illinois Supreme Court. When the company’s appeal was decided by the highest court in Illinois in 2005, Karmeier cast what plaintiffs argue was the deciding vote. Paying a reinstated judgment would now cost State Farm more than $1.7 billion.
My Virginia defective product attorney colleagues and I have found it necessary to protect plaintiffs against all kinds of insurance company tricks. Seating a friendly judge far outstrips the normal, unsavory but legal tactics of pressuring victims into making statements without having an attorney present and offering settlements that do not cover accident-related expenses. If proof exists that State Farm worked to stack the Illinois Supreme Court against policyholders it had already victimized by failing to meet policy terms, then the company should be held accountable to fullest extent of the law.
This case also concerns us because tens of thousands of Virginia and North Carolina drivers carry State Farm coverage. If the company could act so underhandedly in Illinois, what might it be doing elsewhere?