Christopher K. Gridley v. State Farm: Unfair Titling Practices (2004)

The case stemmed from Gridley’s purchase of a four-door, 1998 Volvo S70, with a clean title, at an auction in November 1999. Five months after the sale, a mechanic discovered that the Volvo had been seriously damaged in a major accident prior to Gridley’s purchase, and stated the auto had been “improperly rebuilt”.

Christopher K. Gridley of Denham Springs, Louisiana, filed suit against State Farm in June, 2000. According to the lawsuit, State Farm declared the car totaled a month prior to Gridley’s purchase, but the company failed to obtain a salvage title.

According to information gathered, Gridley’s Louisiana Counsel discovered that similar claims against State Farm and other insurers had been filed elsewhere, forming the basis of a potential class action. The St. Louis firm of Korein & Tillery were brought in as part of Gridley’s Counsel, and the case was filed in Madison County Illinois’ Third Circuit District Court. (Korein & Tillery are among the most infamous class action plaintiff firms, having won the $10.1 billion dollar judgment against Philip Morris in Illinois. Madison County, Illinois consistently ranks at the top of the American Tort Reform Association’s annual “Judicial Hellhole” list for the size of judgments rendered and, in some cases, the apparent lack of forum connection to Madison County.)

The Gridley suit became significant for reasons other than State Farm’s titling practices. National backers of tort reform have consistently attacked Illinois Courts for their outrageous Plaintiff awards. The Plaintiff’s Bar has developed a huge industry of bringing Class Action suits to these courts, and are widely accused of court “venue shopping”. Gridley, a citizen of Louisiana, attempted to demonstrate that State Farm’s significant presence in Illinois supported his choice of geographic venue. The Illinois case went back and forth through the appellate process, with one court supporting Gridley’s choice of venue, another denying the Illinois forum.

The insurance industry, along with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, tort reform lobbyists, and corporations previously hit by Illinois judgments have jumped in to the fray in support of State Farm. Numerous, extensive amicus curiae (friend-of-the-court) briefs were filed for Gridley  when it reached the Illinois Supreme Court, harshly criticizing the case as representative of national tort abuse. “The watchers of the case and the filers of the briefs hope that the court in the course of ruling affirmatively on the change of venue will formulate rules that “will put the brakes on” what they call Madison County’s ‘litigation industry’”.

The Gridley case is on the Illinois Supreme Court’s “Advisement Docket” for their January Term, 2005. It is unknown when this case will be heard again.

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