By David Hedges, Publisher

Another major class-action lawsuit filed in Roane County may be turning heads in the legal community with some big numbers.

On the heels of a record-setting case that netted nearly $400 million for royalty owners allegedly shortchanged by Columbia Natural Gas, a proposed settlement reached last week involves Nationwide automobile insurance policy holders.

Charleston attorney Scott Segal, who was involved in both cases, said the case known as O'Dell vs. Nationwide, could result in a total payout of around $75 million.

"It certainly is one of the larger insurance class action cases in the history of the state," Segal said.

The proposed settlement was reached Wednesday and entered by Roane Circuit Judge David Nibert.

Class members will have an opportunity to object to the terms of the proposal at a hearing June 25.

Segal, one of several lawyers who represents policyholders, said the settlement will affect somewhere between 250 and 1,000 West Virginia residents who had Nationwide insurance, or their passengers, who were injured or suffered property damage between April 11, 1993 and Jan. 31, 2007.

"There are some members of the class who could potentially qualify for hundreds of thousands of dollars," Segal said. "For some it could be over a million dollars."

Segal said the proposed settlement is on a counter-claim. The case actually began when Nationwide Mutual Insurance filed suit against George O'Dell Jr. and Stacy McKown O'Dell in 2000.

Segal said the class members contend that Nationwide failed to live up to its obligations in accident claims involving uninsured and underinsured motorists.

He said policy owners who bought liability coverage were entitled to the same amount of coverage for underinsured and uninsured claims, unless they signed the proper waiver.

Nationwide has denied any wrongdoing.

Segal said policyholders would have two options under the proposal. They can accept the difference between what they were paid for their claim and what they should have been paid, plus 10 percent interest, or they can have their claim reviewed by an independent adjustor and receive up to three times what they should have received at the time of the accident.

He said those who may be affected would be notified by the publication of advertisements. A toll-free number and Web site will be established to allow potential class members to learn more about their rights under the proposal prior to the June hearing.

Segal said he had no explanation for why two large settlements came out of Roane County, which had never seen a class action lawsuit before.

"Who would have thought it?" he said.


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