With all due respect to Wally Olson, whose work I've long appreciated and whom I've sometimes called on as a valued source in the past, it's my considered expert opinion as a journalist that the hatchet piece on Jay Angoff that he links to from the Belleville (Ill.) News-Democrat is, well, one steaming turd of a story I rack my brain, but I just can't quite connect the dots in the trail of innuendo reporter Brian Brueggemann would like us to follow.
He notes that former Missouri Insurance Commissioner Jay Angoff was counsel to a class action suit in which $1.6 million was awarded in attorneys fees. He also mentions that Angoff was counsel to a suit against Allstate (I'm not familiar with the case, but it sounds like a "persistency discount" complaint) that the company settled for $5.57 million.
It's implied, but never actually stated in the story, that these suits are one and the same. And right off the bat, I find the lack of clarity on that point troublesome. When a journalist leaves muddy a point you'd think he'd want to make explicit, it's often a sign he's trying to tell you more than he actually knows.
Presuming they are the same suit, then Angoff and his co-counsel reaped around 29% of the settlement (if it was inclusive of attorneys fees), which would be a relatively large but certainly not unheard of tally. If the $5.57 million was just the damages Allstate settled for, then the $1.6 million in fees is about 22%, which is pretty close to industry standard.
So, thus far, we have a not outrageously large attorney fee paid, along with a pretty small potatoes settlement for an insurance class action. The actual merits of the case in question aren't actually brought up at all, but the subtext is that the fee was, for one reason or another, undeserved.
So...what's the story then?
The story, apparently, is that Mr. Angoff also has testified before various public bodies blaming insurers for raising medical malpractice rates in Illinois.
And apparently, that's it. Several years ago, Jay Angoff represented policyholders who sued Allstate, and last year, Jay Angoff told a state House committee that med-mal insurers were to blame for the med-mal insurance crisis.
That, in and of itself, was information Mr. Brueggemann considered to be "newsworthy."
Now, the case for newsworthiness might be buoyed somewhat if Allstate actually sold medical malpractice insurance. Then, you could at least make some semblance of a conflict of interest charge. But alas, they don't.
Moreover, Mr. Angoff's specialty as a class actions attorney might have greater bearing on his opposition to pain and suffering caps in med-mal suits if the two areas of tort law had a bit more to do with each other. It's exceedingly rare for a medical liability tort to be filed by way of class action. If multiple patients are suffering the same injury at the hands of the same doctor, it's probably a good bet that he SHOULD be sued.
So what, again, is the point of the story? If it's to establish that Jay Angoff isn't a "credible, objective witness," as the story's one source asserts....who, exactly, was taking him to be one? And what event or incident has transpired in recent days to merit this sober inquiry into Mr. Angoff's character?
And then there's the perfunctory note that Angoff "could not be reached for comment." Color me skeptical. Declined comment, I could maybe buy, especially if he had been pre-warned as to the nature of the piece. But could not be reached? How long did you give him to get back to you...an hour? I've been around the insurance biz long enough to know that Jay Angoff may be many things, but press-shy is not one of them.
To be fair, it could be that Angoff just thought this rinky-dink little paper wasn't worth getting back to right away. Which is why I wouldn't raise that particular quibble were this some piece of breaking news that absolutely had to get to press. But when the headline ("Med-mal 'expert' is also plaintiff attorney") conveys the same information that one could get by, say, looking in the yellow pages under Jay Angoff -- a Jefferson City, Missouri (MO) Class Actions Lawyer...I think it's safe to say the issue didn't exactly require a quick turnaround.
In fact, I can't help but wonder if Mr. Brueggemann's intent here wasn't partly to waive a red cape before the bull. To so blatantly skirt the line of malicious intent in a story about a friggin' TRIAL LAWYER, for chrissakes, requires either brass balls, an unhealthy appreciation of irony, an unbelievably thick skull, or ulterior motives that I can't pretend to understand.